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Title: Tent Life in Siberia
Author: Kennan, George, 1845-1924
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Team.



TENT-LIFE IN

SIBERIA

By GEORGE KENNAN

[Illustration: George Kennan 1868]



Tent Life in Siberia

A New Account of an Old Undertaking


Adventures among the Koraks and
Other Tribes In Kamchatka and Northern Asia

By

George Kennan

Author of "Siberia and the Exile System," "Campaigning in Cuba," "The
Tragedy of Pelee," "Folk Tales of Napoleon"

_With 32 Illustrations and Maps_

1910



PREFACE TO REVISED EDITION.


This narrative of Siberian life and adventure was first given to the
public in 1870--just forty years ago. Since that time it has never
been out of print, and has never ceased to find readers; and the
original plates have been sent to the press so many times that they
are nearly worn out. This persistent and long-continued demand for the
book seems to indicate that it has some sort of perennial interest,
and encourages me to hope that a revised, illustrated, and greatly
enlarged edition of it will meet with a favourable reception.

_Tent Life in Siberia_ was put to press for the first time while I
was absent in Russia. I wrote the concluding chapters of it in St.
Petersburg, and sent them to the publishers from there in the early
part of 1870. I was then so anxious to get started for the mountains
of the Caucasus that I cut the narrative as short as I possibly could,
and omitted much that I should have put in if I had had time enough
to work it into shape. The present edition contains more than fifteen
thousand words of new matter, including "Our Narrowest Escape" and
"The Aurora of the Sea," and it also describes, for the first time,
the incidents and adventures of a winter journey overland from the
Okhotsk Sea to the Volga River--a straightaway sleigh-ride of more
than five thousand miles.

The illustrations of the present edition, which will, I hope, add
greatly to its interest, are partly from paintings by George A. Frost,
who was with me on both of my Siberian expeditions; and partly from
photographs taken by Messrs. Jochelson and Bogoras, two Russian
political exiles, who made the scientific investigations for the Jesup
North Pacific Expedition on the Asiatic side of Bering Strait.

I desire gratefully to acknowledge my indebtedness to The Century
Company for permission to use parts of two articles originally written
for _St. Nicholas_; to Mrs. A.D. Frost, of North Cambridge, Mass.,
for photographs of her late husband's paintings; and to the American
Museum of Natural History for the right to reproduce the Siberian
photographs of Messrs. Jochelson and Bogoras.

GEORGE KENNAN.

BEAUFORT, S.C.

February 16, 1910.



PREFACE

The attempt which was made by the Western Union Telegraph Company, in
1865-66 and 67, to build an overland line to Europe via Alaska,
Bering Strait, and Siberia, was in some respects the most remarkable
undertaking of the nineteenth century. Bold in its conception, and
important in the ends at which it aimed, it attracted at one time
the attention of the whole civilised world, and was regarded as the
greatest telegraphic enterprise which had ever engaged American
capital. Like all unsuccessful ventures, however, in this progressive
age, it has been speedily forgotten, and the brilliant success of the
Atlantic cable has driven it entirely out of the public mind. Most
readers are familiar with the principal facts in the history of this
enterprise, from its organisation to its ultimate abandonment; but
only a few, even of its original projectors, know anything about the
work which it accomplished in British Columbia, Alaska, and Siberia;
the obstacles which were met and overcome by its exploring and working
parties; and the contributions which it made to our knowledge of an
hitherto untravelled, unvisited region. Its employees, in the
course of two years, explored nearly six thousand miles of unbroken
wilderness, extending from Vancouver Island on the American coast to
Bering Strait, and from Bering Strait to the Chinese frontier in
Asia. The traces of their deserted camps may be found in the wildest
mountain fastnesses of Kamchatka, on the vast desolate plains of
north-eastern Siberia, and throughout the gloomy pine forests of
Alaska and British Columbia. Mounted on reindeer, they traversed the
most rugged passes of the north Asiatic mountains; they floated in
skin canoes down the great rivers of the north; slept in the smoky
_pologs_ of the Siberian Chukchis (chook'-chees); and camped out upon
desolate northern plains in temperatures of 50° and 60° below zero.
The poles which they erected and the houses which they built now stand
alone in an encircling wilderness,--the only results of their three
years' labour and suffering, and the only monuments of an abandoned
enterprise.

It is not my purpose to write a history of the Russian-American
telegraph. The success of its rival, the Atlantic cable, has
completely overshadowed its early importance, and its own failure
has deprived it of all its interest for American readers. Though its
history, however, be unimportant, the surveys and explorations which
were planned and executed under its auspices have a value and an
interest of their own, aside from the object for which they were
undertaken. The territory which they covered is little known to the
reading world, and its nomadic inhabitants have been rarely visited
by civilised man. Only a few adventurous traders and fur-hunters have
ever penetrated its almost unbroken solitudes, and it is not probable
that civilised men will ever follow in their steps. The country holds
out to the ordinary traveller no inducement commensurate with the risk
and hardship which its exploration involves.

Two of the employees of the Russian-American Telegraph Company,
Messrs. Whymper and Dall, have already published accounts of their
travels in various parts of British Columbia and Alaska; and believing
that a history of the Company's explorations on the other side
of Bering Strait will possess equal interest, I have written the
following narrative of two years' life in north-eastern Siberia. It
makes no pretensions whatever to fulness of scientific information,
nor to any very extraordinary researches of any kind. It is intended
simply to convey as clear and accurate an idea as possible of the
inhabitants, scenery, customs, and general external features of a
new and comparatively unknown country. It is essentially a personal
narrative of life in Siberia and Kamchatka; and its claim to attention
lies rather in the freshness of the subject, than in any special
devotion to science or skill of treatment.



[Illustration: Head covering used in stalking seals]



CONTENTS


PREFACE


CHAPTER I

THE OVERLAND TELEGRAPH LINE TO RUSSIA--SAILING OF THE FIRST SIBERIAN
EXPLORING PARTY FROM SAN FRANCISCO


CHAPTER II

CROSSING THE NORTH PACIFIC--SEVEN WEEKS IN A RUSSIAN BRIG


CHAPTER III

THE PICTURESQUE COAST OF KAMCHATKA--ARRIVAL IN PETROPAVLOVSK


CHAPTER IV

THINGS RUSSIAN IN KAMCHATKA--A VERDANT AND FLOWERY LAND--THE VILLAGE
OF TWO SAINTS


CHAPTER V

FIRST ATTEMPT TO LEARN RUSSIAN--PLAN OF EXPLORATION--DIVISION OF PARTY


CHAPTER VI

A COSSACK WEDDING--THE PENINSULA OF KAMCHATKA


CHAPTER VII

STARTING NORTHWARD--KAMCHATKAN SCENERY, VILLAGES, AND PEOPLE


CHAPTER VIII

BRIDLE PATHS OF SOUTHERN KAMCHATKA--HOUSES AND FOOD OF THE
PEOPLE--REINDEER TONGUES AND WILD-ROSE PETALS--A KAMCHATKAN DRIVER'S
CANTICLE


CHAPTER IX

THE BEAUTIFUL VALLEY OF GENAL--WALLS OF LITERATURE--SCARING UP A
BEAR--END OF HORSEBACK RIDE


CHAPTER X

THE KAMCHATKA RIVER--LIFE ON A CANOE RAFT--RECEPTION AT
MILKOVA--MISTAKEN FOR THE TSAR


CHAPTER XI

ARRIVAL AT KLUCHEI--THE KLUCHEFSKOI VOLCANO--A QUESTION OF ROUTE--A
RUSSIAN "BLACK BATH"


CHAPTER XII

CANOE TRAVEL ON THE YOLOFKA--VOLCANIC CONVERSATION--"O
SUSANNA!"--TALKING "AMERICAN"--A DIFFICULT ASCENT


CHAPTER XIII

A DISMAL NIGHT--CROSSING THE KAMCHATKAN DIVIDE--ANOTHER BEAR
HUNT--BREAKNECK RIDING--TIGIL--STEPPES OF NORTHERN KAMCHATKA


CHAPTER XIV

OKHOTSK SEACOAST--LESNOI--THE "DEVIL'S PASS"--LOST IN
SNOW-STORM--SAVED BY BRASS BOX--WILD SCENE


CHAPTER XV

CUT OFF BY STORM--STARVATION THREATENED--RACE WITH A RISING TIDE--TWO
DAYS WITH FOOD--RETURN TO LESNOI


CHAPTER XVI

KAMCHATKAN NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENTS--CHARACTER OF PEOPLE--
SALMON-FISHING--SABLE-TRAPPING--KAMCHADAL LANGUAGE--NATIVE
MUSIC--DOG-DRIVING--WINTER DRESS


CHAPTER XVII

A FRESH START--CROSSING THE SAMANKA MOUNS ON A KORAK ENCAMPMENT--
NOMADS AND THEIR TENTS--DOOR-HOLES AND DOGS--POLOGS--KORAK BREAD


CHAPTER XVIII

WHY THE KORAKS WANDER--THEIR INDEPENDENCE--CHEERLESS LIFE--USES OF
THE REINDEER--KORAK IDEAS OF DISTANCE--"MONARCH OF THE BRASS-HANDLED
SWORD."


CHAPTER XIX

THE SNOW-DRIFT COMPASS--MARRIAGE BY CAPTURE--AN INTOXICATING
FUNGUS--MONOTONY OF KORAK LIFE


CHAPTER XX

THE KORAK TONGUE--RELIGION OF TERROR--INCANTATIONS OF SHAMANS--KILLING
OF OLD AND SICK--REINDEER SUPERSTITION--KORAK CHARACTER


CHAPTER XXI

FIRST FROST-BITE--THE SETTLED KORAKS--HOUR-GLASS YURTS--CLIMBING
DOWN CHIMNEYS--YURT INTERIORS--LEGS AS FEATURES--TRAVELLING BY
"PAVOSKA"--BAD CHARACTER OF SETTLED KORAKS


CHAPTER XXII

FIRST ATTEMPT AT DOG-DRIVING--UNPREMEDITATED PROFANITY--A
RUNAWAY--ARRIVAL AT GIZHIGA--HOSPITALITY OF THE ISPRAVNIK--PLANS FOR
THE WINTER


CHAPTER XXIII

DOG-SLEDGE TRAVEL--ARCTIC MIRAGES--CAMP AT NIGHT A HOWLING
CHORUS--NORTHERN LIGHTS


CHAPTER XXIV

DISMAL SHELTER--ARRIVAL OF A COSSACK COURIER--AMERICANS ON THE
ANADYR--ARCTIC FIREWOOD--A SIBERIAN BLIZZARD--LOST ON THE STEPPE


CHAPTER XXV

PENZHINA--POSTS FOR ELEVATED ROAD--FIFTY-THREE BELOW ZERO--TALKED
OUT--ASTRONOMICAL LECTURES--EATING PLANETS--THE HOUSE OF A PRIEST


CHAPTER XXVI

ANADYRSK--AN ARCTIC OUTPOST--SEVERE CLIMATE--CHRISTMAS SERVICES
AND CAROLS--A SIBERIAN BALL--MUSIC AND REFRESHMENTS--EXCITED
DANCING--HOLIDAY AMUSEMENTS


CHAPTER XXVII

NEWS FROM THE ANADYR PARTY--PLAN FOR ITS RELIEF--THE STORY OF A
STOVE-PIPE--START FOR THE SEACOAST


CHAPTER XXVIII

A SLEDGE JOURNEY EASTWARD--REACHING TIDEWATER--A NIGHT SEARCH FOR
A STOVE-PIPE--FINDING COMRADES--A VOICE FROM A STOVE--STORY OF THE
ANADYR PARTY


CHAPTER XXIX

CLASSIFICATION OF NATIVES--INDIAN TYPE, MONGOLIAN TYPE, AND TURKISH
TYPE--EASTERN VIEW OF WESTERN ARTS AND FASHIONS--AN AMERICAN SAINT


CHAPTER XXX

AN ARCTIC AURORA--ORDERS FROM THE MAJOR--ADVENTURES OF MACRAE AND
ARNOLD WITH THE CHUKCHIS--RETURN TO GIZHIGA--REVIEW OF WINTER'S WORK


CHAPTER XXXI

LAST WORK OF THE WINTER--BIRDS AND FLOWERS OF SPRING--CONTINUOUS
DAYLIGHT--SOCIAL LIFE IN GIZHIGA--A CURIOUS SICKNESS--SUMMER DAYS AND
NIGHTS--NEWS FROM AMERICA


CHAPTER XXXII

DULL LIFE--ARCTIC MOSQUITOES--WAITING FOR SUPPLIES--SHIPS
SIGNALLED--BARK "CLARA BELL"--RUSSIAN CORVETTE "VARAG"


CHAPTER XXXIII

ARRIVAL OF BARK "PALMETTO"--DRIVEN ASHORE BY GALE--DISCHARGING
CARGO UNDER DIFFICULTIES--NEGRO CREW MUTINIES--LONELY TRIP TO
ANADYRSK--STUPID KORAKS--EXPLOSIVE PROVISIONS


CHAPTER XXXIV

A MEETING IN THE NIGHT--HARDSHIPS OF BUSH'S PARTY--SIBERIAN
FAMINES--FISH SAVINGS BANKS--WORK IN THE NORTHERN DISTRICT--STARVING
POLE CUTTERS--A JOURNEY TO YAMSK


CHAPTER XXXV

YURT ON THE TOPOLOFKA--THE VALLEY OF TEMPESTS--RIVER OF THE
LOST--STORM BOUND--ESCAPE BY THE ICE-FOOT--A SLEEPLESS NIGHT--LEET
REPORTED DEAD--YAMSK AT LAST


CHAPTER XXXVI BRIGHT ANTICIPATIONS---A WHALE-SHIP SIGNALLED--THE BARK
"SEA BREEZE"--NEWS FROM THE ATLANTIC CABLE--REPORTED ABANDONMENT OF
THE OVERLAND LINE


CHAPTER XXXVII

OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION OF THE BAD NEWS--THE ENTERPRISE ABANDONED--A
VOYAGE TO OKHOTSK--THE AURORA OF THE SEA


CHAPTER XXXVIII

CLOSING UP THE BUSINESS--A BARGAIN SALE--TELEGRAPH TEACUPS
REDUCED--CHEAP SHOVELS FOR GRAVE-DIGGING--WIRE FISH NETS AT A
SACRIFICE--OUR NARROWEST ESCAPE--BLOWN OUT TO SEA--SAVED BY THE
"ONWARD"


CHAPTER XXXIX

START FOR ST. PETERSBURG--ROUTE TO YAKUTSK--A TUNGUSE ENCAMPMENT--
CROSSING THE STANAVOI MOUNTAINS--SEVERE COLD--FIRE-LIGHTED SMOKE
PILLARS--ARRIVAL IN YAKUTSK


CHAPTER XL

THE GREATEST HORSE-EXPRESS SERVICE IN THE WORLD--EQUIPMENT FOR
THE ROAD--A SIBERIAN "SEND-OFF"--POST TRAVEL ON THE ICE--BROKEN
SLEEP--DRIVING INTO AN AIR-HOLE--REPAIRING DAMAGES--FIRST SIGHT OF
IRKUTSK


CHAPTER XLI

A PLUNGE INTO CIVILISATION--THE NOBLES' BALL--SHOCKING LANGUAGE--
SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH--THE GREAT SIBERIAN ROAD--PASSING TEA
CARAVANS--RAPID TRAVEL--FIFTY-SEVEN HUNDRED MILES IN ELEVEN
WEEKS--ARRIVAL IN ST. PETERSBURG


INDEX



ILLUSTRATIONS


GEORGE KENNAN, 1868

A TENT OF THE WANDERING KORAKS IN SUMMER

TOWARD NIGHT: A TIRED DOG-TEAM From a painting by George A. Frost.

WANDERING KORAKS WITH THEIR REINDEER AND SLEDGES From a painting by
George A. Frost.

A MAN OF THE WANDERING KORAKS

TENTS AND REINDEER OF THE WANDERING KORAKS From a painting by George
A. Frost.

DRAWINGS OF THE KORAKS. ILLUSTRATIVE OF THEIR MYTHS

A KORAK GIRL

KORAK DOGS SACRIFICED TO PROPITIATE THE SPIRITS OF EVIL

A RACE OF WANDERING KORAK REINDEER TEAMS From a painting by George A.
Frost.

HOUR-GLASS HOUSES OF THE SETTLED KORAKS From a model in The American
Museum of Natural History.

INTERIOR OF A KORAK YURT. GETTING FIRE WITH THE FIRE DRILL From a
photograph in The American Museum of Natural History.

A WOMAN ENTERING A YURT OF THE SETTLED KORAKS

SETTLED KORAKS IN A TRIAL OF STRENGTH

AN OLD MAN OF THE SETTLED KORAKS From a photograph in The American
Museum of Natural History.

YURT AND DOG-TEAM OF THE SETTLED KORAKS From a painting by George A.
Frost.

A WOMAN FEEDING A DOG-TEAM IN GIZHIGA From a, painting by George A.
Frost.

INTERIOR OF A YURT OF THE SETTLED KORAKS

DOG-TEAMS DESCENDING A STEEP MOUNTAIN SLOPE

CHUKCHIS ASSEMBLING AT ANADYRSK FOR THE WINTER FAIR

ANADYRSK IN WINTER

A MAN OF THE YUKAGIRS

A MAN OF THE WANDERING CHUKCHIS

TUNGUSE MAN AND WOMAN IN BEST SUMMER DRESS

A TUNGUSE SUMMER TENT

A CHUKCHI RUG OF REINDEER SKIN

TUNGUSES ON REINDEER-BACK MOVING THEIR ENCAMPMENT From a photograph in
The American Museum of Natural History.

A YURT OF THE SETTLED KORAKS IN MIDWINTER

AN ARCTIC FUNERAL

THE YURT IN THE "STORMY GORGE OF THE VILIGA" From a painting by George
A. Frost.

MAPS



TENT LIFE IN SIBERIA


CHAPTER I


THE OVERLAND TELEGRAPH LINE TO RUSSIA--SAILING OF THE FIRST SIBERIAN
EXPLORING PARTY FROM SAN FRANCISCO.

The Russian-American Telegraph Company, otherwise known as the
"Western Union Extension," was organised at New York in the summer
of 1864. The idea of a line from America to Europe, by way of Bering
Strait, had existed for many years in the minds of several prominent
telegraphers, and had been proposed by Perry McD. Collins, as early
as 1857, when he made his trip across northern Asia. It was never
seriously considered, however, until after the failure of the first
Atlantic cable, when the expediency of an overland line between the
two continents began to be earnestly discussed. The plan of Mr.
Collins, which was submitted to the Western Union Telegraph Company of
New York as early as 1863, seemed to be the most practicable of all
the projects which were suggested for intercontinental communication.
It proposed to unite the telegraphic systems of America and Russia by
a line through British Columbia, Russian America, and north-eastern
Siberia, meeting the Russian lines at the mouth of the Amur (ah-moor)
River on the Asiatic coast, and forming one continuous girdle of wire
nearly round the globe.

This plan possessed many very obvious advantages. It called for
no long cables. It provided for a line which would run everywhere
overland, except for a short distance at Bering Strait, and which
could be easily repaired when injured by accident or storm. It
promised also to extend its line eventually down the Asiatic coast to
Peking, and to develop a large and profitable business with China.
All these considerations recommended it strongly to the favour of
capitalists and practical telegraph men, and it was finally adopted
by the Western Union Telegraph Company in 1863. It was foreseen, of
course, that the next Atlantic cable might succeed, and that such
success would prove very damaging, if not fatal, to the prospects
of the proposed overland line. Such an event, however, did not seem
probable, and in view of all the circumstances, the Company decided to
assume the inevitable risk.

A contract was entered into with the Russian Government, providing for
the extension of the latter's line through Siberia to the mouth of
the Amur River, and granting to the Company certain extraordinary
privileges in Russian territory. Similar concessions were obtained
in 1864 from the British Government; assistance was promised by the
United States Congress; and the Western Union Extension Company was
immediately organised, with a nominal capital of $10,000,000. The
stock was rapidly taken, principally by the stockholders of the
original Western Union Company, and an assessment of five per cent.
was immediately made to provide funds for the prosecution of the
work. Such was the faith at this time in the ultimate success of
the enterprise that in less than two months its stock sold for
seventy-five dollars per share, with only one assessment of five
dollars paid in.

In August, 1864, Colonel Charles S. Bulkley, formerly Superintendent
of Military Telegraphs in the Department of the Gulf, was appointed
engineer-in-chief of the proposed line, and in December he sailed from
New York for San Francisco, to organise and fit out exploring parties,
and to begin active operations.

Led by a desire of identifying myself with so novel and important an
enterprise, as well as by a natural love of travel and adventure which
I had never before been able to gratify, I offered my services as an
explorer soon after the projection of the line. My application was
favourably considered, and on the 13th of December I sailed from New
York with the engineer-in-chief, for the proposed headquarters of
the Company at San Francisco. Colonel Bulkley, immediately after his
arrival, opened an office in Montgomery Street, and began organising
exploring parties to make a preliminary survey of the route of the
line. No sooner did it become noised about the city that men were
wanted to explore the unknown regions of British Columbia, Russian
America, and Siberia, than the Company's office was thronged with
eager applicants for positions, in any and every capacity.

Adventurous Micawbers, who had long been waiting for something of
this kind to turn up; broken-down miners, who hoped to retrieve their
fortunes in new gold-fields yet to be discovered in the north; and
returned soldiers thirsting for fresh excitement,--all hastened to
offer their services as pioneers in the great work. Trained and
skilled engineers were in active demand; but the supply of only
ordinary men, who made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in
experience, was unlimited.

Month after month passed slowly away in the selection, organisation,
and equipment of parties, until at last, in June, 1865, the Company's
vessels were reported ready for sea.

The plan of operations, so far as it had then been decided upon, was
to land one party in British Columbia, near the mouth of the Frazer
River; one in Russian-America, at Norton Sound; and one on the Asiatic
side of Bering Strait, at the mouth of the Anadyr (ah-nah'-dyr) River.
These parties, under the direction respectively of Messrs. Pope,
Kennicott, and Macrae, were directed to push back into the interior,
following as far as practicable the courses of the rivers near which
they were landed; to obtain all possible information with regard to
the climate, soil, timber, and inhabitants of the regions traversed;
and to locate, in a general way, a route for the proposed line.

The two American parties would have comparatively advantageous bases
of operations at Victoria and Fort St. Michael; but the Siberian
party, if left on the Asiatic coast at all, must be landed near Bering
Strait, on the edge of a barren, desolate region, nearly a thousand
miles from any known settlement. Thrown thus upon its own resources,
in an unknown country, and among nomadic tribes of hostile natives,
without any means of interior transportation except canoes, the safety
and success of this party were by no means assured. It was even
asserted by many friends of the enterprise, that to leave men in such
a situation, and under such circumstances, was to abandon them to
almost certain death; and the Russian consul at San Francisco wrote a
letter to Colonel Bulkley, advising him strongly not to land a party
on the Asiatic coast of the North Pacific, but to send it instead to
one of the Russian ports of the Okhotsk Sea, where it could establish
a base of supplies, obtain information with regard to the interior,
and procure horses or dog-sledges for overland explorations in any
desired direction.

The wisdom and good sense of this advice were apparent to all; but
unfortunately the engineer-in-chief had no vessel that he could send
with a party into the Okhotsk Sea, and if men were landed at all that
summer on the Asiatic coast, they must be landed near Bering Strait.

Late in June, however, Colonel Bulkley learned that a small Russian
trading-vessel named the _Olga_ was about to sail from San Francisco
for Kamchatka (kam-chat'-kah) and the south-western coast of the
Okhotsk Sea, and he succeeded in prevailing upon the owners to take
four men as passengers to the Russian settlement of Nikolaievsk
(nik-o-lai'-evsk), at the mouth of the Amur River. This, although not
so desirable a point for beginning operations as some others on the
northern coast of the Sea, was still much better than any which could
be selected on the Asiatic coast of the North Pacific; and a party was
soon organised to sail in the _Olga_ for Kamchatka and the mouth of
the Amur. This party consisted of Major S. Abaza, a Russian gentleman
who had been appointed superintendent of the work, and leader of the
forces in Siberia; James A. Mahood, a civil engineer of reputation in
California; R. J. Bush, who had just returned from three years' active
service in the Carolinas, and myself,--not a very formidable force in
point of numbers, nor a very remarkable one in point of experience,
but strong in hope, self-reliance, and enthusiasm.

On the 28th of June, we were notified that the brig _Olga_ had nearly
all her cargo aboard, and would have "immediate despatch."

This marine metaphor, as we afterward learned, meant only that she
would sail some time in the course of the summer; but we, in our
trustful inexperience, supposed that the brig must be all ready to
cast off her moorings, and the announcement threw us into all
the excitement and confusion of hasty preparation for a start.
Dress-coats, linen shirts, and fine boots were recklessly thrown or
given away; blankets, heavy shoes, and overshirts of flannel were
purchased in large quantities; rifles, revolvers, and bowie-knives of
formidable dimensions gave our room the appearance of a disorganised
arsenal; pots of arsenic, jars of alcohol, butterfly-nets, snake-bags,
pill-boxes, and a dozen other implements and appliances of science
about which we knew nothing, were given to us by our enthusiastic
naturalists and packed away in big boxes; Wrangell's (vrang'el's)
_Travels_, Gray's _Botany_, and a few scientific works were added to
our small library; and before night we were able to report ourselves
ready--armed and equipped for any adventure, from the capture of a new
species of bug, to the conquest of Kamchatka!

As it was against all precedent to go to sea without looking at the
ship, Bush and I appointed ourselves an examining committee for the
party, and walked down to the wharf where she lay. The captain, a
bluff Americanised German, met us at the gangway and guided us through
the little brig from stem to stern. Our limited marine experience
would not have qualified us to pass an _ex cathedra_ judgment upon the
seaworthiness of a mud-scow; but Bush, with characteristic impudence
and versatility of talent, discoursed learnedly to the skipper upon
the beauty of his vessel's "lines" (whatever those were), her spread
of canvas and build generally,--discussed the comparative merits
of single and double topsails, and new patent yard-slings, and
reef-tackle, and altogether displayed such an amount of nautical
learning that it completely crushed me and staggered even the captain.

I strongly suspected that Bush had acquired most of his knowledge of
sea terms from a cursory perusal of Bowditch's _Navigator_, which
I had seen lying on the office table, and I privately resolved to
procure a compact edition of Marryat's sea tales as soon as I should
go ashore, and overwhelm him next time with such accumulated stores of
nautical erudition that he would hide his diminished head. I had a dim
recollection of reading something in Cooper's novels about a ship's
deadheads and cat's eyes, or cat-heads and deadeyes, I could not
remember which, and, determined not to be ignored as an inexperienced
landlubber, I gazed in a vague way into the rigging, and made a
few very general observations upon the nature of deadeyes and
spanker-booms. The captain, however, promptly annihilated me by
demanding categorically whether I had ever seen the spanker-boom
jammed with the foretopsailyard, with the wind abeam. I replied
meekly that I believed such a catastrophe had never occurred under
my immediate observation, and as he turned to Bush with a smile of
commiseration for my ignorance I ground my teeth and went below to
inspect the pantry. Here I felt more at home. The long rows of canned
provisions, beef stock, concentrated milk, pie fruits, and a small
keg, bearing the quaint inscription, "Zante cur.," soon soothed my
perturbed spirit and convinced me beyond the shadow of a doubt that
the _Olga_ was stanch and seaworthy, and built in the latest and most
improved style of marine architecture.

I therefore went up to tell Bush that I had made a careful and
critical examination of the vessel below, and that she would
undoubtedly do. I omitted to state the nature of the observations
upon which this conclusion was founded, but he asked no troublesome
questions, and we returned to the office with a favourable report of
the ship's build, capacity, and outfit.

On Saturday, July 1st, the _Olga_ took in the last of her cargo, and
was hauled out into the stream.

Our farewell letters were hastily written home, our final preparations
made, and at nine o'clock on Monday morning we assembled at the Howard
Street wharf, where the steam-tug lay which was to tow us out to sea.

A large party of friends had gathered to bid us good-bye; and the
pier, covered with bright dresses and blue uniforms, presented quite a
holiday appearance in the warm clear sunshine of a California morning.

Our last instructions were delivered to us by Colonel Bulkley, with
many hearty wishes for our health and success; laughing invitations
to "come and see us" were extended to our less fortunate comrades who
were left behind; requests to send back specimens of the North
pole and the aurora borealis were intermingled with directions for
preserving birds and collecting bugs; and amid a general confusion
of congratulations, good wishes, cautions, bantering challenges, and
tearful farewells, the steamer's bell rang. Dall, ever alive to the
interests of his beloved science, grasped me cordially by the hand,
saying, "Good-bye, George. God bless you! Keep your eye out for
land-snails and skulls of the wild animals!"

Miss B---- said pleadingly: "Take care of my dear brother"; and as I
promised to care for him as if he were my own, I thought of another
sister far away, who, could she be present, would echo the request:
"Take care of my dear brother." With waving handkerchiefs and repeated
good-byes, we moved slowly from the wharf, and, steaming round in a
great semicircle to where the _Olga_ was lying, we were transferred to
the little brig, which, for the next two months, was to be our home.

The steamer towed us outside the "heads" of the Golden Gate, and then
cast off; and as she passed us on her way back, our friends gathered
in a little group on the forward deck, with the colonel at their head,
and gave three generous cheers for the "first Siberian exploring
party." We replied with three more,--our last farewell to
civilisation,--and silently watched the lessening figure of the
steamer, until the white handkerchief which Arnold had tied to the
backstays could no longer be seen, and we were rocking alone on the
long swells of the Pacific.



CHAPTER II


CROSSING THE NORTH PACIFIC--SEVEN WEEKS IN A RUSSIAN BRIG

"He took great content and exceeding delight in his voyage, as who doth
not as shall attempt the like."--BURTON.

  AT SEA, 700 MILES N.W. OF SAN FRANCISCO.
  _Wednesday, July 12, 1865_.

Ten days ago, on the eve of our departure for the Asiatic coast, full
of high hopes and joyful anticipations of pleasure, I wrote in a fair
round hand on this opening page of my journal, the above sentence
from Burton; never once doubting, in my enthusiasm, the complete
realisation of those "future joys," which to "fancy's eye" lay in such
"bright uncertainty," or suspecting that "a life on the ocean wave"
was not a state of the highest felicity attainable on earth. The
quotation seemed to me an extremely happy one, and I mentally blessed
the quaint old Anatomist of Melancholy for providing me with a motto
at once so simple and so appropriate. Of course "he took great content
and exceeding delight in his voyage"; and the wholly unwarranted
assumption that because "he" did, every one else necessarily must, did
not strike me as being in the least absurd.

On the contrary, it carried all the weight of the severest logical
demonstration, and I would have treated with contempt any suggestion
of possible disappointment. My ideas of sea life had been derived
principally from glowing poetical descriptions of marine sunsets, of
"summer isles of Eden, lying in dark purple spheres of sea," and of
those "moonlight nights on lonely waters" with which poets have for
ages beguiled ignorant landsmen into ocean voyages. Fogs, storms,
and seasickness did not enter at all into my conceptions of marine
phenomena; or if I did admit the possibility of a storm, it was only
as a picturesque, highly poetical manifestation of wind and water in
action, without any of the disagreeable features which attend those
elements under more prosaic circumstances. I had, it is true,
experienced a little rough weather on my voyage to California, but my
memory had long since idealised it into something grand and poetical;
and I looked forward even to a storm on the Pacific as an experience
not only pleasant, but highly desirable. The illusion was very
pleasant while it lasted; but--it is over. Ten days of real sea life
have converted the "bright uncertainty of future joys" into a dark
and decided certainty of future misery, and left me to mourn the
incompatibility of poetry and truth. Burton is a humbug, Tennyson a
fraud, I'm a victim, and Byron and Procter are accessories before the
fact. Never again will I pin my faith to poets. They may tell the
truth nearly enough for poetical consistency, but their judgment is
hopelessly perverted, and their imagination is too luxuriantly vivid
for a truthful realistic delineation of sea life. Byron's _London
Packet_ is a brilliant exception, but I remember no other in the whole
range of poetical literature.

Our life since we left port has certainly been anything but poetical.

For nearly a week, we suffered all the indescribable miseries of
seasickness, without any alleviating circumstances whatever. Day after
day we lay in our narrow berths, too sick to read, too unhappy to
talk, watching the cabin lamp as it swung uneasily in its well-oiled
gimbals, and listening to the gurgle and swash of the water around the
after dead-lights, and the regular clank, clank of the blocks of the
try-sail sheet as the rolling of the vessel swung the heavy boom from
side to side.

We all professed to be enthusiastic supporters of the Tapleyan
philosophy--jollity under all circumstances; but we failed most
lamentably in reconciling our practice with our principles. There was
not the faintest suggestion of jollity in the appearance of the four
motionless, prostrate figures against the wall. Seasickness had
triumphed over philosophy! Prospective and retrospective reverie of
a decidedly gloomy character was our only occupation. I remember
speculating curiously upon the probability of Noah's having ever
been seasick; wondering how the sea-going qualities of the Ark would
compare with those of our brig, and whether she had our brig's
uncomfortable way of pitching about in a heavy swell.

If she had--and I almost smiled at the idea--what an unhappy
experience it must have been for the poor animals!

I wondered also if Jason and Ulysses were born with sea-legs, or
whether they had to go through the same unpleasant process that we did
to get them on.

Concluded finally that sea-legs, like some diseases must be a
diabolical invention of modern times, and that the ancients got along
in some way without them. Then, looking intently at the fly-specks
upon the painted boards ten inches from my eyes, I would recall all
the bright anticipations with which I had sailed from San Francisco,
and turn over, with a groan of disgust, to the wall.

I wonder if any one has ever written down on paper his seasick
reveries. There are "Evening Reveries," "Reveries of a Bachelor," and
"Seaside Reveries" in abundance; but no one, so far as I know, has
ever even attempted to do his seasick reveries literary justice. It is
a strange oversight, and I would respectfully suggest to any aspiring
writer who has the reverie faculty, that there is here an unworked
field of boundless extent. One trip across the North Pacific in a
small brig will furnish an inexhaustible supply of material.

Our life thus far has been too monotonous to afford a single
noticeable incident. The weather has been cold, damp, and foggy, with
light head winds and a heavy swell; we have been confined closely to
our seven-by-nine after-cabin; and its close, stifling atmosphere,
redolent of bilge-water, lamp oil, and tobacco smoke, has had a most
depressing influence upon our spirits. I am glad to see, however,
that all our party are up today, and that there is a faint interest
manifested in the prospect of dinner; but even the inspiriting strains
of the Faust march, which the captain is playing upon a wheezy old
accordion, fail to put any expression of animation into the woebegone
faces around the cabin table. Mahood pretends that he is all
right, and plays checkers with the captain with an air of assumed
tranquillity which approaches heroism, but he is observed at irregular
intervals to go suddenly and unexpectedly on deck, and to return every
time with a more ghastly and rueful countenance. When asked the object
of these periodical visits to the quarter-deck, he replies, with a
transparent affectation of cheerfulness, that he only goes up "to look
at the compass and see how she's heading." I am surprised to find that
looking at the compass is attended with such painful and melancholy
emotions as those expressed in Mahood's face when he comes back; but
he performs the self-imposed duty with unshrinking faithfulness, and
relieves us of a great deal of anxiety about the safety of the ship.
The captain seems a little negligent, and sometimes does not observe
the compass once a day; but Mahood watches it with unsleeping
vigilance.

  BRIG "OLGA," 800 MILES N.W. OF SAN FRANCISCO.
  _Sunday, July 16, 1865_.

The monotony of our lives was relieved night before last, and our
seasickness aggravated, by a severe gale of wind from the north-west,
which compelled us to lie to for twenty hours under one close-reefed
maintopsail. The storm began late in the afternoon, and by nine
o'clock the wind was at its height and the sea rapidly rising.
The waves pounded like Titanic sledgehammers against the vessel's
quivering timbers; the gale roared a deep diapason through the
cordage; and the regular thud, thud, thud of the pumps, and the long
melancholy whistling of the wind through the blocks, filled our minds
with dismal forebodings, and banished all inclination for sleep.

Morning dawned gloomily and reluctantly, and its first grey light,
struggling through the film of water on the small rectangular deck
lights, revealed a comical scene of confusion and disorder. The ship
was rolling and labouring heavily, and Mahood's trunk, having in some
way broken from its moorings, was sliding back and forth across the
cabin floor. Bush's big meerschaum, in company with a corpulent
sponge, had taken up temporary quarters in the crown of my best hat,
and the Major's box of cigars revolved periodically from corner to
corner in the close embrace of a dirty shirt. Sliding and rolling over
the carpet in every direction were books, papers, cigars, brushes,
dirty collars, stockings, empty wine-bottles, slippers, coats, and old
boots; and a large box of telegraph material threatened momentarily to
break from its fastenings and demolish everything. The Major, who was
the first to show any signs of animation, rose on one elbow in bed,
gazed fixedly at the sliding and revolving articles, and shaking
his head reflectively, said: "It is a c-u-r-ious thing! It _is_
a _c-u-r-_ious thing!" as if the migratory boots and cigar-boxes
exhibited some new and perplexing phenomena not to be accounted for by
any of the known laws of physics. A sudden roll in which the vessel
indulged at that particular moment gave additional force to the
sentiment of the soliloquy; and with renewed convictions, I have no
doubt, of the original and innate depravity of matter generally,
and of the Pacific Ocean especially, he laid his head back upon the
pillow.

It required no inconsiderable degree of resolution to "turn out" under
such unpromising circumstances; but Bush, after two or three groans
and a yawn, made the attempt to get up and dress. Climbing hurriedly
down when the ship rolled to windward, he caught his boots in one hand
and trousers in the other, and began hopping about the cabin with
surprising agility, dodging or jumping over the sliding trunk and
rolling bottles, and making frantic efforts, apparently, to put both
legs simultaneously into one boot. Surprised in the midst of this
arduous task by an unexpected lurch, he made an impetuous charge upon
an inoffensive washstand, stepped on an erratic bottle, fell on his
head, and finally brought up a total wreck in the corner of the
room. Convulsed with laughter, the Major could only ejaculate
disconnectedly, "I tell you--it is a--curious thing how she--rolls!"
"Yes," rejoined Bush savagely, as he rubbed one knee, "I should think
it was! Just get up and try it!" But the Major was entirely satisfied
to see Bush try it, and did nothing but laugh at his misfortunes. The
latter finally succeeded in getting dressed, and after some hesitation
I concluded to follow his example. By dint of falling twice over the
trunk, kneeling upon my heels, sitting on my elbows, and executing
several other equally impracticable feats, I got my vest on inside
out, both feet in the wrong boots respectively, and staggered up the
companionway on deck. The wind was still blowing a gale, and we showed
no canvas but one close-reefed maintopsail. Great massive mounds of
blue water piled themselves up in the concealment of the low-hanging
rain-clouds, rushed out upon us with white foaming crests ten feet
above the quarterdeck, and broke into clouds of blinding, strangling
spray over the forecastle and galley, careening the ship until the
bell on the quarter-deck struck and water ran in over the lee gunwale.
It did not exactly correspond with my preconceived ideas of a storm,
but I was obliged to confess that it had many of the characteristic
features of the real phenomenon. The wind had the orthodox howl
through the rigging, the sea was fully up to the prescribed standard,
and the vessel pitched and rolled in a way to satisfy the most
critical taste. The impression of sublimity, however, which I had
anticipated, was almost entirely lost in the sense of personal
discomfort. A man who has just been pitched over a skylight by one of
the ship's eccentric movements, or drenched to the skin by a burst of
spray, is not in a state of mind to contemplate sublimity; and after
going through a varied and exhaustive course of such treatment, any
romantic notions which he may previously have entertained with regard
to the ocean's beauty and sublimity are pretty much knocked and
drowned out of him. Rough weather makes short work of poetry and
sentiment. The "wet sheet" and "flowing sea" of the poet have a
significance quite the reverse of poetical when one discovers the "wet
sheet" in his bed and the "flowing sea" all over the cabin floor,
and our experience illustrates not so much the sublimity as the
unpleasantness and discomfort of a storm at sea.

  BRIG "OLGA," AT SEA,
  _July 27, 1865_.

I used often to wonder, while living in San Francisco, where the
chilling fogs that toward night used to drift in over Lone Mountain
and through the Golden Gate came from. I have discovered the
laboratory. For the past two weeks we have been sailing continually in
a dense, wet, grey cloud of mist, so thick at times as almost to hide
the topgallant yards, and so penetrating as to find its way even into
our little after-cabin, and condense in minute drops upon our clothes.
It rises, I presume, from the warm water of the great Pacific Gulf
Stream across which we are passing, and whose vapour is condensed
into fog by the cold north-west winds from Siberia. It is the most
disagreeable feature of our voyage.

Our life has finally settled down into a quiet monotonous routine of
eating, smoking, watching the barometer, and sleeping twelve hours a
day. The gale with which we were favoured two weeks ago afforded
a pleasant thrill of temporary excitement and a valuable topic of
conversation; but we have all come to coincide in the opinion of the
Major, that it was a "curious thing," and are anxiously awaiting the
turning up of something else. One cold, rainy, foggy day succeeds
another, with only an occasional variation in the way of a head wind
or a flurry of snow. Time, of course, hangs heavily on our hands. We
are waked about half-past seven in the morning by the second mate, a
funny, phlegmatic Dutchman, who is always shouting to us to "turn out"
and see an imaginary whale, which he conjures up regularly before
breakfast, and which invariably disappears before we can get on deck,
as mysteriously as "Moby Dick." The whale, however, fails to draw
after a time, and he resorts to an equally mysterious and eccentric
sea-serpent, whose wonderful appearance he describes in comical broken
English with the vain hope that we will crawl out into the raw foggy
atmosphere to look at it. We never do. Bush opens his eyes, yawns, and
keeps a sleepy watch of the breakfast table, which is situated in the
captain's cabin forward. I cannot see it from my berth, so I watch
Bush. Presently we hear the humpbacked steward's footsteps on the deck
above our heads, and, with a quick succession of little bumps, half a
dozen boiled potatoes come rolling down the stairs of the companionway
into the cabin. They are the forerunners of breakfast. Bush watches
the table, and I watch Bush more and more intently as the steward
brings in the eatables; and by the expression of Bush's face, I judge
whether it be worth while to get up or not. If he groans and turns
over to the wall, I know that it is only hash, and I echo his groan
and follow his example; but if he smiles, and gets up, I do likewise,
with the full assurance of fresh mutton-chops or rice curry and
chicken. After breakfast the Major smokes a cigarette and looks
meditatively at the barometer, the captain gets his old accordion and
squeezes out the Russian National Hymn, while Bush and I go on deck
to inhale a few breaths of pure fresh fog, and chaff the second mate
about his sea-serpent. In reading, playing checkers, fencing, and
climbing about the rigging when the weather permits, we pass away the
day, as we have already passed away twenty and must pass twenty more
before we can hope to see land.

  AT SEA, NEAR THE ALEUTIAN ISLANDS.
  _August 6, 1865_.

"Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren
ground, ling, heath, broom, furze, anything," except this wearisome
monotonous waste of water! Let Kamchatka be what it will, we shall
welcome it with as much joy as that with which Columbus first saw the
flowery coast of San Salvador. I am prepared to look with complacency
upon a sandbar and two spears of grass, and would not even insist upon
the grass if I could only be sure of the sand-bar. We have now been
thirty-four days at sea without once meeting a sail or getting a
glimpse of land.

Our chief amusement lately has been the discussion of controverted
points of history and science, and wonderful is the forensic and
argumentative ability which these debates have developed. They are
getting to be positively interesting. The only drawback to them is,
that in the absence of any decisive authority they never come to any
satisfactory conclusion. We have now been discussing for sixteen days
the uses of a whale's blow-holes; and I firmly believe that if our
voyage were prolonged, like the Flying Dutchman's, to all eternity, we
should never reach any solution of the problem that would satisfy all
the disputants. The captain has an old Dutch _History of the World_,
in twenty-six folio volumes, to which he appeals as final authority in
all questions under the heavens, whether pertaining to love, science,
war, art, politics, or religion; and no sooner does he get cornered in
a discussion than he entrenches himself behind these ponderous folios,
and keeps up a hot fire of terrific Dutch polysyllables until we are
ready to make an unconditional surrender. If we venture to suggest
a doubt as to the intimacy of the connection between a whale's
blow-holes and the _History of the World_, he comes down upon us with
the most withering denunciations as wrongheaded sceptics who won't
even believe what is _printed_--and in a Dutch history too! As the
captain dispenses the pie, however, at dinner, I have found it
advisable to smother my convictions as to the veracity of his Teutonic
historian, and join him in denouncing that pernicious heretic Bush,
who is wise beyond what is written. Result--Bush gets only one small
piece of pie, and I get two, which of course is highly gratifying
to my feelings, as well as advantageous to the dispersion of sound
historical learning!

I begin to observe at dinner an increasing reverence on Bush's part
for Dutch histories.

[Illustration: Snow Scrapers]



CHAPTER III


THE PICTURESQUE COAST OP KAMCHATKA--ARRIVAL IN PETROPAVLOVSK

  BRIG "OLGA," AT SEA, 200 MILES FROM KAMCHATKA.
  _August 17, 1865._

Our voyage is at last drawing to a close, and after seven long weeks
of cold, rainy, rough weather our eyes are soon to be gladdened again
by the sight of land, and never was it more welcome to weary mariner
than it will be to us. Even as I write, the sound of scraping and
scrubbing is heard on deck, and proclaims our nearness to land. They
are dressing the vessel to go once more into society. We were only 255
miles from the Kamchatkan seaport of Petropavlovsk (pet-ro-pav'-lovsk)
last night, and if this favourable breeze holds we expect to reach
there to-morrow noon. It has fallen almost to a dead calm, however,
this morning, so that we may be delayed until Saturday.

  AT SEA, OFF THE COAST OF KAMCHATKA.
  _Friday, August 18, 1865._

We have a fine breeze this morning; and the brig, under every stitch
of canvas that will draw, is staggering through the seas enveloped in
a dense fog, through which even her topgallant sails show mistily.
Should the wind continue and the fog be dissipated we may hope to see
land tonight.

  11 A.M.

I have just come down from the topgallant yard, where for the last
three hours I have been clinging uncomfortably to the backstays,
watching for land, and swinging back and forth through the fog in the
arc of a great circle as the vessel rolled lazily to the seas. We
cannot discern any object at a distance of three ships' lengths,
although the sky is evidently cloudless. Great numbers of gulls,
boobies, puffin, fish-hawks, and solan-geese surround the ship, and
the water is full of drifting medusae.

  NOON.

Half an hour ago the fog began to lift, and at 11.40 the captain, who
had been sweeping the horizon with a glass, shouted cheerily, "Land
ho! Land ho! Hurrah!" and the cry was echoed simultaneously from stem
to stern, and from the galley to the topgallant yard. Bush, Mahood,
and the Major started at a run for the forecastle; the little
humpbacked steward rushed frantically out of the galley with his hands
all dough, and climbed up on the bulwarks; the sailors ran into the
rigging, and only the man at the wheel retained his self-possession.
Away ahead, drawn in faint luminous outlines above the horizon,
appeared two high conical peaks, so distant that nothing but the white
snow in their deep ravines could be seen, and so faint that they
could hardly be distinguished from the blue sky beyond. They were
the mountains of Villuchinski (vil-loo'-chin-ski) and Avacha
(ah-vah'-chah), on the Kamchatkan coast, fully a hundred miles away.
The Major looked at them through a glass long and eagerly, and then
waving his hand proudly toward them, turned to us, and said with a
burst of patriotic enthusiasm, "You see before you my country--the
great Russian Empire!" and then as the fog drifted down again upon the
ship, he dropped suddenly from his declamatory style, and with a look
of disgust exclaimed, "Chort znaiet shto etta takoi [the Devil only
knows what it means]--it _is_ a curious thing! fog, fog, nothing but
fog!"

In five minutes the last vestige of "the great Russian Empire"
had disappeared, and we went below to dinner in a state of joyful
excitement, which can never be imagined by one who has not been
forty-six days at sea in the North Pacific.

  4 P.M.

We have just been favoured with another view of the land. Half an hour
ago I could see from the topgallant yard, where I was posted, that the
fog was beginning to break away, and in a moment it rose slowly like a
huge grey curtain, unveiling the sea and the deep-blue sky, letting in
a flood of rosy light from the sinking sun, and revealing a picture of
wonderful beauty. Before us, stretching for a hundred and fifty miles
to the north and south, lay the grand coast-line of Kamchatka, rising
abruptly in great purple promontories out of the blue sparkling sea,
flecked here with white clouds and shreds of fleecy mist, deepening in
places into a soft quivering blue, and sweeping backward and upward
into the pure white snow of the higher peaks. Two active volcanoes,
10,000 and 16,000 feet in height, rose above the confused jagged
ranges of the lower mountains, piercing the blue sky with sharp white
triangles of eternal snow, and drawing the purple shadows of evening
around their feet. The high bold coast did not appear, in that clear
atmosphere, to be fifteen miles away, and it seemed to have risen
suddenly like a beautiful mirage out of the sea. In less than five
minutes the grey curtain of mist dropped slowly down again over the
magnificent picture, and it faded gradually from sight, leaving us
almost in doubt whether it had been a reality, or only a bright
deceptive vision. We are enveloped now, as we have been nearly all
day, in a thick clammy fog.

  HARBOUR OP PETROPAVLOVSK, KAMCHATKA.
  _August 19, 1865._

At dark last night we were distant, as we supposed, about fifteen
miles from Cape Povorotnoi (po-vo-rote'-noi) and as the fog had closed
in again denser than ever, the captain dared not venture any nearer.
The ship was accordingly put about, and we stood off and on all night,
waiting for sunrise and a clear atmosphere, to enable us to approach
the coast in safety. At five o'clock I was on deck. The fog was colder
and denser than ever, and out of it rolled the white-capped waves
raised by a fresh south-easterly breeze. Shortly before six o'clock
it began to grow light, the brig was headed for the land, and under
foresail, jib, and topsails, began to forge steadily through the
water. The captain, glass in hand, anxiously paced the quarterdeck,
ever and anon reconnoitring the horizon, and casting a glance up to
windward to see if there were any prospect of better weather. Several
times he was upon the point of putting the ship about, fearing to run
on a lee shore in that impenetrable mist; but it finally lightened up,
the fog disappeared, and the horizon line came out clear and distinct.
To our utter astonishment, not a foot of land could be seen in any
direction! The long range of blue mountains which had seemed the
previous night to be within an hour's sail--the lofty snowy peaks--the
deep gorges and the bold headlands, had all

  "--melted into thin air,
  Leaving not a rack behind."

There was nothing to indicate the existence of land within a thousand
miles, save the number and variety of the birds that wheeled curiously
around our wake, or flew away with a spattering noise from under our
bows. Many were the theories which were suggested to account for the
sudden disappearance of the high bold land. The captain attempted to
explain it by the supposition that a strong current, sweeping off
shore, had during the night carried us away to the south-east. Bush
accused the mate of being asleep on his watch, and letting the ship
run over the land, while the mate declared solemnly that he did not
believe that there had been any land there at all; that it was only a
mirage. The Major said it was "pagánni" (abominable) and "a curious
thing," but did not volunteer any solution of the problem. So there we
were.

We had a fine leading wind from the south-east, and were now going
through the water at the rate of seven knots. Eight o'clock, nine
o'clock, ten o'clock, and still no appearance of land, although we
had made since daylight more than thirty miles. At eleven o'clock,
however, the horizon gradually darkened, and all at once a bold
headland, terminating in a precipitous cliff, loomed up out of a thin
mist at a distance of only four miles. All was at once excitement. The
topgallant sails were clewed up to reduce the vessel's speed, and her
course was changed so that we swept round in a curve broadside to the
coast, about three miles distant. The mountain peaks, by which we
might have ascertained our position, were hidden by the clouds and
fog, and it was no easy matter to ascertain exactly where we were.

Away to the left, dimly defined in the mist, were two or three more
high blue headlands, but what they were, and where the harbour of
Petropavlovsk might be, were questions that no one could answer. The
captain brought his charts, compass, and drawing instruments on deck,
laid them on the cabin skylight, and began taking the bearings of the
different headlands, while we eagerly scanned the shore with glasses,
and gave free expressions to our several opinions as to our situation.
The Russian chart which the captain had of the coast was fortunately
a good one, and he soon determined our position, and the names of the
headlands first seen. We were just north of Cape Povorotnoi, about
nine miles south of the entrance of Avacha Bay. The yards were now
squared, and we went off on the new tack before a steady breeze from
the south-east. In less than an hour we sighted the high isolated
rocks known as the "Three Brothers," passed a rocky precipitous
island, surrounded by clouds of shrieking gulls and parrot-billed
ducks, and by two o'clock were off "the heads" of Avacha Bay, on which
is situated the village of Petropavlovsk. The scenery at the entrance
more than equalled our highest anticipations. Green grassy valleys
stretched away from openings in the rocky coast until they were lost
in the distant mountains; the rounded bluffs were covered with clumps
of yellow birch and thickets of dark-green chaparral; patches of
flowers could be seen on the warm sheltered slopes of the hills; and
as we passed close under the lighthouse bluff, Bush shouted
joyously, "Hurrah, there's clover!" "Clover!" exclaimed the captain
contemptuously, "there ain't any clover in the Ar'tic Regions!" "How
do you know, you've never been there," retorted Bush caustically; "it
_looks_ like clover, and"--looking through a glass--"it _is_ clover";
and his face lighted up as if the discovery of clover had relieved his
mind of a great deal of anxiety as to the severity of the Kamchatkan
climate. It was a sort of vegetable exponent of temperature, and out
of a little patch of clover, Bush's imagination developed, in a style
undreamt of by Darwin, the whole luxuriant flora of the temperate
zone.

The very name of Kamchatka had always been associated in our minds
with everything barren and inhospitable, and we did not entertain
for a moment the thought that such a country could afford beautiful
scenery and luxuriant vegetation. In fact, with us all it was a mooted
question whether anything more than mosses, lichens, and perhaps a
little grass maintained the unequal struggle for existence in that
frozen clime. It may be imagined with what delight and surprise we
looked upon green hills covered with trees and verdant thickets;
upon valleys white with clover and diversified with little groves of
silver-barked birch, and even the rocks nodding with wild roses and
columbine, which had taken root in their clefts as if nature strove to
hide with a garment of flowers the evidences of past convulsions.

Just before three o'clock we came in sight of the village of
Petropavlovsk--a little cluster of red-roofed and bark-thatched log
houses; a Greek church of curious architecture, with a green dome;
a strip of beach, a half-ruined wharf, two whale-boats, and the
dismantled wreck of a half-sunken vessel. High green hills swept in a
great semicircle of foliage around the little village, and almost shut
in the quiet pond-like harbour--an inlet of Avacha Bay--on which it
was situated. Under foresail and maintopsail we glided silently under
the shadow of the encircling hills into this landlocked mill-pond, and
within a stone's throw of the nearest house the sails were suddenly
clewed up, and with a quivering of the ship and a rattle of chain
cable our anchor dropped into the soil of Asia.

[Illustration: Boy's Boots of Sealskin]



CHAPTER IV


THINGS RUSSIAN IN KAMCHATKA--A VERDANT AND FLOWERY LAND--THE VILLAGE OF
TWO SAINTS.

It has been well observed by Irving, that to one about to visit
foreign countries a long sea voyage is an excellent preparative.
To quote his words, "The temporary absence of worldly scenes and
employments produces a state of mind peculiarly fitted to receive
new and vivid impressions." And he might have added with equal
truth--favourable impressions. The tiresome monotony of sea life
predisposes the traveller to regard favourably anything that will
quicken his stagnating faculties and perceptions and furnish new
matter for thought; and the most commonplace scenery and circumstances
afford him gratification and delight. For this reason one is apt, upon
arriving after a long voyage in a strange country, to form a more
favourable opinion of its people and scenery than his subsequent
experience will sustain. But it seems to me particularly fortunate
that our first impressions of a new country, which are most clear and
vivid and therefore most lasting, are also most pleasant, so that in
future years a retrospective glance over our past wanderings will show
the most cheerful pictures drawn in the brightest and most enduring
colours. I am sure that the recollection of my first view of the
mountains of Kamchatka, the delight with which my eye drank in their
bright aërial tints, and the romance with which my ardent fancy
invested them, will long outlive the memory of the hardships I have
endured among them, the snow-storms that have pelted me on their
summits, and the rains that have drenched me in their valleys.
Fanciful perhaps, but I believe true.

The longing for land which one feels after having been five or six
weeks at sea is sometimes so strong as to be almost a passion. I
verily believe that if the first land we saw had been one of those
immense barren moss steppes which I afterward came to hold in such
detestation, I should have regarded it as nothing less than the
original site of the Garden of Eden. Not all the charms which nature
has lavished upon the Vale of Tempe could have given me more pleasure
than did the little green valley in which nestled the red-roofed and
bark-covered log houses of Petropavlovsk.

The arrival of a ship in that remote and unfrequented part of the
world is an event of no little importance; and the rattling of our
chain cable through the hawse-holes created a very perceptible
sensation in the quiet village. Little children ran bareheaded out of
doors, looked at us for a moment, and then ran hastily back to call
the rest of the household; dark-haired natives and Russian peasants,
in blue shirts and leather trousers, gathered in a group at the
landing; and seventy-five or a hundred half-wild dogs broke out
suddenly into a terrific chorus of howls in honour of our arrival.

It was already late in the afternoon, but we could not restrain
our impatience to step once more upon dry land; and as soon as the
captain's boat could be lowered, Bush, Mahood, and I went ashore to
look at the town.

[Illustration]

Petropavlovsk is laid out in a style that is very irregular, without
being at all picturesque. The idea of a street never seems to
have suggested itself either to the original settlers or to their
descendants; and the paths, such as they are, wander around aimlessly
among the scattered houses, like erratic sheepwalks. It is impossible
to go for a hundred yards in a straight line, in any direction,
without either bringing up against the side of a house or trespassing
upon somebody's backyard; and in the night one falls over a slumbering
cow, upon a fair average, once every fifty feet. In other respects it
is rather a pretty village, surrounded as it is by high green hills,
and affording a fine view of the beautiful snowy peak of Avacha, which
rises to a height of 11,000 feet directly behind the town.

Mr. Fluger, a German merchant of Petropavlovsk who had boarded us in a
small boat outside the harbour, now constituted himself our guide; and
after a short walk around the village, invited us to his house, where
we sat in a cloud of fragrant cigar-smoke, talking over American war
news, and the latest _on dit_ of Kamchatkan society, until it finally
began to grow dark. I noticed, among other books lying upon Mr.
Fluger's table, _Life Thoughts_, by Beecher, and _The Schönberg-Cotta
Family,_ and wondered that the latter had already found its way to the
distant shores of Kamchatka.

As new-comers, it was our first duty to pay our respects to the
Russian authorities; and, accompanied by Mr. Fluger and Mr. Bollman,
we called upon Captain Sutkovoi (soot-ko-voi'), the resident "Captain
of the port." His house, with its bright-red tin roof, was almost
hidden by a large grove of thrifty oaks, through which tumbled, in
a succession of little cascades, a clear, cold mountain stream. We
entered the gate, walked up a broad travelled path under the shade of
the interlocking branches, and, without knocking, entered the house.
Captain Sutkovoi welcomed us cordially, and notwithstanding our
inability to speak any language but our own, soon made us feel quite
at home. Conversation however languished, as every remark had to be
translated through two languages before it could be understood by the
person to whom it was addressed; and brilliant as it might have been
in the first place, it lost its freshness in being passed around
through Russian, German, and English to us.

I was surprised to see so many evidences of cultivated and refined
taste in this remote corner of the world, where I had expected barely
the absolute necessaries of life, or at best a few of the most common
comforts. A large piano of Russian manufacture occupied one corner of
the room, and a choice assortment of Russian, German, and American
music testified to the musical taste of its owner. A few choice
paintings and lithographs adorned the walls, and on the centre-table
rested a stereoscope with a large collection of photographic views,
and an unfinished game of chess, from which Captain and Madame
Sutkovoi had risen at our entrance.

After a pleasant visit of an hour we took our leave, receiving an
invitation to dinner on the following day.

It was not yet decided whether we should continue our voyage to the
Amur River, or remain in Petropavlovsk and begin our northern journey
from there, so we still regarded the brig as our home and returned,
every night to our little cabin. The first night in port was strangely
calm, peaceful, and quiet, accustomed as we had become to the rolling,
pitching, and creaking of the vessel, the swash of water, and the
whistling of the wind. There was not a zephyr abroad, and the surface
of the miniature bay lay like a dark mirror, in which were obscurely
reflected the high hills which formed its setting. A few scattered
lights from the village threw long streams of radiance across the dark
water, and from the black hillside on our right was heard at intervals
the faint lonely tinkle of a cow-bell or the long melancholy howl of
a wolf-like dog. I tried hard to sleep; but the novelty of our
surroundings, the thought that we were now in Asia, and hundreds
of conjectures and forecastings as to our future prospects and
adventures, put sleep for a long time at defiance.

The hamlet of Petropavlovsk, which, although not the largest, is one
of the most important settlements in the Kamchatkan peninsula, has
a population of perhaps two or three hundred natives and Russian
peasants, together with a few German and American merchants, drawn
thither by the trade in sables. It is not fairly a representative
Kamchatkan village, for it has felt in no inconsiderable degree the
civilising influences of foreign intercourse, and shows in its manners
and modes of life and thought some evidences of modern enterprise and
enlightenment. It has existed since the early part of the eighteenth
century, and is old enough to have acquired some civilisation of its
own; but age in a Siberian settlement is no criterion of development,
and Petropavlovsk either has not attained the enlightenment of
maturity, or has passed into its second childhood, for it is still in
a benighted condition. Why it was and is called Petropavlovsk--the
village of St. Peter and St. Paul--I failed, after diligent inquiry,
to learn. The sacred canon does not contain any epistle to the
Kamchatkans, much as they need it, nor is there any other evidence to
show that the ground on which the village stands was ever visited by
either of the eminent saints whose names it bears. The conclusion to
which we are driven therefore is, that its inhabitants, not being
distinguished for apostolic virtues, and feeling their need of saintly
intercession, called the settlement after St. Peter and St. Paul, with
the hope that those Apostles would feel a sort of proprietary interest
in the place, and secure its final salvation without any unnecessary
inquiries into its merits. Whether that was the idea of its original
founders or not I cannot say; but such a plan would be eminently
adapted to the state of society, in most of the Siberian settlements,
where faith is strong, but where works are few in number and
questionable in tendency.

The sights of Petropavlovsk, speaking after the manner of tourists,
are few and uninteresting. It has two monuments erected to the memory
of the distinguished navigators Bering and La Perouse, and there are
traces on its hills of the fortifications built during the Crimean War
to repel the attack of the allied French and English squadrons; but
aside from these, the town can boast of no objects or places of
historical interest. To us, however, who had been shut up nearly two
months in a close dark cabin, the village was attractive enough of
itself, and early on the following morning we went ashore for a ramble
on the wooded peninsula which separates the small harbour from Avacha
Bay. The sky was cloudless, but a dense fog drifted low over the
hilltops and veiled the surrounding mountains from sight. The whole
landscape was green as emerald and dripping with moisture, but the
sunshine struggled occasionally through the grey cloud of vapour, and
patches of light swept swiftly across the wet hillsides, like sunny
smiles upon a tearful face. The ground everywhere was covered with
flowers. Marsh violets, dotted the grass here and there with blue;
columbine swung its purple spurred corollas over the grey mossy rocks;
and wild roses appeared everywhere in dense thickets, with their
delicate pink petals strewn over the ground beneath them like a
coloured shadow.

Climbing up the slope of the steep hill between the harbour and the
bay, shaking down little showers of water from every bush, we touched,
and treading under foot hundreds of dewy flowers, we came suddenly
upon the monument of La Perouse. I hope his countrymen, the French,
have erected to his memory some more tasteful and enduring token of
their esteem than this. It is simply a wooden frame, covered with
sheet iron, and painted black. It bears no date or inscription
whatever, and looks more like the tombstone over the grave of a
criminal, than a monument to keep fresh the memory of a distinguished
navigator.

Bush sat down on a little grassy knoll to make a sketch of the scene,
while Mahood and I wandered on up the hill toward the old Russian
batteries. They are several in number, situated along the crest of
the ridge which divides the inner from the outer bay, and command the
approaches to the town from the west. They are now almost overgrown
with grass and flowers, and only the form of the embrasures
distinguishes them from shapeless mounds of earth. It would be thought
that the remote situation and inhospitable climate of Kamchatka would
have secured to its inhabitants an immunity from the desolating
ravages of war. But even this country has its ruined forts and
grass-grown battle-fields; and its now silent hills echoed not long
ago to the thunder of opposing cannon. Leaving Mahood to make a
critical survey of the entrenchments--an occupation which his tastes
and pursuits rendered more interesting to him than to me--I strolled
on up the hill to the edge of the cliff from which the storming party
of the Allies was thrown by the Russian gunners. No traces now remain
of the bloody struggle which took place upon the brink of this
precipice. Moss covers with its green carpet the ground which was torn
up in the death grapple; and the nodding bluebell, as it bends to the
fresh sea-breeze, tells no story of the last desperate rally, the hand
to hand conflict, and the shrieks of the overpowered as they were
thrown from the Russian bayonets upon the rocky beach a hundred feet
below.

It seems to me that it was little better than wanton cruelty in the
Allies to attack this unimportant and isolated post, so far from the
real centre of conflict. Could its capture have lessened in any way
the power or resources of the Russian Government, or, by creating a
diversion, have attracted attention from the decisive struggle in
the Crimea, it would perhaps have been justifiable; but it could not
possibly have any direct or indirect influence upon the ultimate
result, and only brought misery upon a few inoffensive Kamchadals who
had never heard of Turkey or the Eastern Question and whose first
intimation of a war probably was the thunder of the enemy's cannon and
the bursting of shells at their very doors. The attack of the Allied
fleet, however, was signally repulsed, and its admiral, stung with
mortification at being foiled by a mere handful of Cossacks and
peasants, committed suicide. On the anniversary of the battle it is
still customary for all the inhabitants, headed by the priests, to
march in solemn procession round the village and over the hill from
which the storming party was thrown, chanting hymns of joy and praise
for the victory.

After botanising a while upon the battle-field, I was joined by Bush,
who had completed his sketch, and we all returned, tired and wet,
to the village. Our appearance anywhere on shore always created a
sensation among the inhabitants. The Russian and native peasants whom
we met removed their caps, and held them respectfully in their hands
while we passed; the windows of the houses were crowded with heads
intent upon getting a sight of the "Amerikanski chinóvniki" (American
officers); and even the dogs broke into furious barks and howls at
our approach. Bush declared that he could not remember a time in his
history when he had been of so much consequence and attracted
such general attention as now; and he attributed it all to the
discrimination and intelligence of Kamchatkan society. Prompt and
instinctive recognition of superior genius he affirmed to be a
characteristic of that people, and he expressed deep regret that it
was not equally so of some other people whom he could mention. "No
reference to an allusion intended!"



CHAPTER V


FIRST ATTEMPT TO LEARN RUSSIAN--PLAN OF EXPLORATION--DIVISION OP PARTY

One of the first things which the traveller notices in any foreign
country is the language, and it is especially noticeable in Kamchatka,
Siberia, or any part of the great Russian Empire. What the ancestors
of the Russians did at the Tower of Babel to have been afflicted with
such a complicated, contorted, mixed up, utterly incomprehensible
language, I can hardly conjecture. I have thought sometimes that they
must have built their side of the Tower higher than any of the other
tribes, and have been punished for their sinful industry with this
jargon of unintelligible sounds, which no man could possibly hope to
understand before he became so old and infirm that he could never work
on another tower. However they came by it, it is certainly a thorn in
the flesh to all travellers in the Russian Empire. Some weeks before
we reached Kamchatka I determined to learn, if possible, a few common
expressions, which would be most useful in our first intercourse with
the natives, and among them the simple declarative sentence, "I want
something to eat." I thought that this would probably be the first
remark that I should have to make to any of the inhabitants, and I
determined to learn it so thoroughly that I should never be in danger
of starvation from ignorance. I accordingly asked the Major one day
what the equivalent expression was in Russian. He coolly replied that
whenever I wanted anything to eat, all that I had to do was to say,
"Vashavwesokeeblagarodiaeeveeleekeeprevoskhodeetelstvoeetakdalshai."
I believe I never felt such a sentiment of reverential admiration for
the acquired talents of any man as I did for those of the Major when
I heard him pronounce, fluently and gracefully, this extraordinary
sentence. My mind was hopelessly lost in attempting to imagine the
number of years of patient toil which must have preceded his
first request for food, and I contemplated with astonishment the
indefatigable perseverance which has borne him triumphant through the
acquirement of such a language. If the simple request for something
to eat presented such apparently insurmountable obstacles to
pronunciation, what must the language be in its dealings with the
more abstruse questions of theological and metaphysical science?
Imagination stood aghast at the thought.

I frankly told the Major that he might print out this terrible
sentence on a big placard and hang it around my neck; but as for
learning to pronounce it, I could not, and did not propose to try. I
found out afterwards that he had taken advantage of my inexperience
and confiding disposition by giving me some of the longest and worst
words in his barbarous language, and pretending that they meant
something to eat. The real translation in Russian would have been bad
enough, and it was wholly unnecessary to select peculiarly hard words.

The Russian language is, I believe, without exception, the most
difficult of all modern languages to learn. Its difficulty does not
lie, as might be supposed, in pronunciation. Its words are all spelled
phonetically, and have only a few sounds which are foreign to English;
but its grammar is exceptionally involved and intricate. It has seven
cases and three genders; and as the latter are dependent upon no
definite principle whatever, but are purely arbitrary, it is almost
impossible for a foreigner to learn them so as to give nouns and
adjectives their proper terminations. Its vocabulary is very copious;
and its idioms have a peculiarly racy individuality which can hardly
be appreciated without a thorough acquaintance with the colloquial
talk of the Russian peasants.

The Russian, like all the Indo-European languages, is closely related
to the ancient Sanscrit, and seems to have preserved unchanged, in a
greater degree than any of the others, the old Vedic words. The first
ten numerals, as spoken by a Hindoo a thousand years before the
Christian era, would, with one or two exceptions, be understood by a
modern Russian peasant.

During our stay in Petropavlovsk we succeeded in learning the Russian
for "Yes," "No," and "How do you do?" and we congratulated ourselves
not a little upon even this slight progress in a language of such
peculiar difficulty.

Our reception at Petropavlovsk by both Russians and Americans was most
cordial and enthusiastic, and the first three or four days after our
arrival were spent in one continuous round of visits and dinners. On
Thursday we made an excursion on horseback to a little village called
Avacha, ten or fifteen versts distant across the bay, and came back
charmed with the scenery, climate, and vegetation of this beautiful
peninsula. The road wound around the slopes of grassy, wooded hills,
above the clear blue water of the bay, commanding a view of the bold
purple promontories which formed the gateway to the sea, and revealing
now and then, between the clumps of silver birch, glimpses of long
ranges of picturesque snow-covered mountains, stretching away along
the western coast to the white solitary peak of Villúchinski, thirty
or forty miles distant. The vegetation everywhere was almost tropical
in its rank luxuriance. We could pick handfuls of flowers almost
without bending from our saddles, and the long wild grass through
which we rode would in many places sweep our waists. Delighted to
find the climate of Italy where we had anticipated the biting air of
Labrador, and inspirited by the beautiful scenery, we woke the echoes
of the hills with American songs, shouted, halloed, and ran races on
our little Cossack ponies until the setting sun warned us that it was
time to return.

Upon the information which he obtained in Petropavlovsk, Major Abaza
formed a plan of operations for the ensuing winter, which was briefly
as follows: Mahood and Bush were to go on in the _Olga_ to Nikolaievsk
at the mouth of the Amur River, on the Chinese frontier, and, making
that settlement their base of supplies, were to explore the rough
mountainous region lying west of the Okhotsk Sea and south of the
Russian seaport of Okhotsk. The Major and I, in the meantime, were
to travel northward with a party of natives through the peninsula of
Kamchatka, and strike the proposed route of the line about midway
between Okhotsk and Bering Strait. Dividing again here, one of
us would go westward to meet Mahood and Bush at Okhotsk, and
one northward to a Russian trading station called Anadyrsk
(ah-nah'-dyrsk), about four hundred miles west of the Strait. In this
way we should cover the whole ground to be traversed by our line,
with the exception of the barren desolate region between Anadyrsk
and Bering Strait, which our chief proposed to leave for the present
unexplored. Taking into consideration our circumstances and the
smallness of our force, this plan was probably the best which could
be devised, but it made it necessary for the Major and me to travel
throughout the whole winter without a single companion except our
native teamsters. As I did not speak Russian, it would be next to
impossible for me to do this without an interpreter, and the Major
engaged in that capacity a young American fur-trader, named Dodd, who
had been living seven years in Petropavlovsk, and who was familiar
with the Russian language and the habits and customs of the natives.
With this addition our whole force numbered five men, and was to be
divided into three parties; one for the western coast of the Okhotsk
Sea, one for the northern coast, and one for the country between
the Sea and the Arctic Circle. All minor details, such as means of
transportation and subsistence, were left to the discretion of the
several parties. We were to live on the country, travel with the
natives, and avail ourselves of any and every means of transportation
and subsistence which the country afforded. It was no pleasure
excursion upon which we were about to enter. The Russian authorities
at Petropavlovsk gave us all the information and assistance in their
power, but did not hesitate to express the opinion that five men would
never succeed in exploring the eighteen hundred miles of barren,
almost uninhabited country between the Amur River and Bering Strait.
It was not probable, they said, that the Major could get through the
peninsula of Kamchatka at all that fall as he anticipated, but that if
he did, he certainly could not penetrate the great desolate steppes
to the northward, which were inhabited only by wandering tribes of
Chukchis (chook'-chees) and Koraks. The Major replied simply that he
would show them what we could do, and went on with his preparations.

On Saturday morning, August 26th, the _Olga_ sailed with Mahood
and Bush for the Amur River, leaving the Major, Dodd, and me at
Petropavlovsk, to make our way northward through Kamchatka.

As the morning was clear and sunny, I engaged a boat and a native
crew, and accompanied Bush and Mahood out to sea.

As we began to feel the fresh morning land-breeze, and to draw out
slowly from under the cliffs of the western coast, I drank a farewell
glass of wine to the success of the "Amur River Exploring Party,"
shook hands with the captain and complimented his Dutch _History_,
and bade good-bye to the mates and men. As I went over the side, the
second mate seemed overcome with emotion at the thought of the perils
which I was about to encounter in that heathen country, and cried out
in funny, broken English, "Oh, Mr. Kinney! [he could not say Kennan]
who's a g'un to cook for ye, and ye can't get no potatusses?" as if
the absence of a cook and the lack of potatoes were the summing up of
all earthly privations. I assured him cheerfully that we could cook
for ourselves and eat roots; but he shook his head, mournfully, as if
he saw in prophetic vision the state of misery to which Siberian roots
and our own cooking must inevitably reduce us. Bush told me afterward
that on the voyage to the Amur he frequently observed the second mate
in deep and melancholy reverie, and upon approaching him and asking
him what he was thinking about, he answered, with a mournful shake of
the head and an indescribable emphasis: "Poor Mr. Kinney! _Poor_ Mr.
Kinney!" Notwithstanding the scepticism with which I treated his
sea-serpent, he gave me a place in his rough affections, second only
to "Tommy," his favourite cat, and the pigs.

As the _Olga_ sheeted home her topgallant sails, changed her course
more to the eastward, and swept slowly out between the heads, I caught
a last glimpse of Bush, standing on the quarter-deck by the wheel, and
telegraphing some unintelligible words in the Morse alphabet with his
arm. I waved my hat in response, and turning shoreward, with a lump in
my throat, ordered the men to give way. The _Olga_ was gone, and the
last tie which connected us with the civilised world seemed severed.

[Illustration: Bone Knife or Scraper]



CHAPTER VI


A COSSACK WEDDING--THE PENINSULA OP KAMCHATKA

Our time in Petropavlovsk, after the departure of the _Olga_, was
almost wholly occupied in making preparations for our northern journey
through the Kamchatkan peninsula. On Tuesday, however, Dodd told me
that there was to be a wedding at the church, and invited me to go
over and witness the ceremony. It took place in the body of the
church, immediately after some sort of morning service, which had
nearly closed when we entered. I had no difficulty in singling out the
happy individuals whose fortunes were to be united in the holy
bonds of matrimony. They betrayed their own secret by their assumed
indifference and unconsciousness.

The unlucky (lucky?) man was a young, round-headed Cossack about
twenty years of age, dressed in a dark frock-coat trimmed with scarlet
and gathered like a lady's dress above the waist, which, with a
reckless disregard for his anatomy, was assumed to be six inches below
his armpits. In honour of the extraordinary occasion he had donned a
great white standing collar which projected above his ears, as the
mate of the _Olga_ would say, "like fore to'gallant studd'n' s'ls."
Owing to a deplorable lack of understanding between his cotton
trousers and his shoes they failed to meet by about six inches, and
no provision had been made for the deficiency. The bride was
comparatively an old woman--at least twenty years the young man's
senior, and a _widow_. I thought with a sigh of the elder Mr. Weller's
parting injunction to his son, "Bevare o' the vidders," and wondered
what the old gentleman would say could he see this unconscious
"wictim" walking up to the altar "and thinkin' in his 'art that it was
all wery capital." The bride wore a dress of that peculiar sort of
calico known as "furniture prints," without trimming or ornaments of
any kind. Whether it was cut "bias" or with "gores," I'm sorry to say
I do not know, dress-making being as much of an occult science to
me as divination. Her hair was tightly bound up in a scarlet silk
handkerchief, fastened in front with a little gilt button. As soon as
the church service was concluded the altar was removed to the
middle of the room, and the priest, donning a black silk gown which
contrasted strangely with his heavy cowhide boots, summoned the couple
before him.

After giving to each three lighted candles tied together with blue
ribbon, he began to read in a loud sonorous voice what I supposed to
be the marriage service, paying no attention whatever to stops, but
catching his breath audibly in the midst of a sentence and hurrying on
again with tenfold rapidity. The candidates for matrimony were silent,
but the deacon, who was looking abstractedly out of a window on the
opposite side of the church, interrupted him occasionally with doleful
chanted responses.

At the conclusion of the reading they all crossed themselves devoutly
half a dozen times in succession, and after asking them the decisive
question the priest gave them each a silver ring. Then came more
reading, at the end of which he administered to them a teaspoonful
of wine out of a cup. Reading and chanting were again resumed and
continued for a long time, the bridegroom and bride crossing and
prostrating themselves continually, and the deacon closing up his
responses by repeating with the most astounding rapidity,
fifteen times in five seconds, the words "Gáspodi pomilui"
(goss'-po-dee-po-mee'-loo-ee), "God have mercy upon us." He then
brought in two large gilt crowns ornamented with medallions, and,
blowing off the dust which had accumulated upon them since the last
wedding, he placed them upon the heads of the bridegroom and bride.

The young Cossack's crown was altogether too large, and slipped down
over his head like a candle-extinguisher until it rested upon his
ears, eclipsing his eyes entirely. The bride's hair--or rather the
peculiar manner in which it was "done up"--precluded the possibility
of making a crown stay on her head, and an individual from among the
spectators was detailed to hold it there. The priest then made the
couple join hands, seized the groom's hand himself, and they all began
a hurried march around the altar--the priest first, dragging along the
Cossack, who, blinded by the crown, was continually stepping on his
leader's heels; the bride following the groom, and trying to keep
the crown from pulling her hair down; and lastly, the supernumerary
stepping on the bride's dress and holding the gilt emblem of royalty
in its place. The whole performance was so indescribably ludicrous
that I could not possibly keep my countenance in that sober frame
which befitted the solemnity of the occasion, and nearly scandalised
the whole assembly by laughing out loud. Three times they marched in
this way around the altar, and the ceremony was then ended. The bride
and groom kissed the crowns reverently as they took them off, walked
around the church, crossing themselves and bowing in succession before
each of the pictures of saints which hung against the wall, and at
last turned to receive the congratulations of their friends. It was
expected of course that the "distinguished Americans," of whose
intelligence, politeness, and suavity so much had been heard would
congratulate the bride upon this auspicious occasion; but at least one
distinguished but unfortunate American did not know how to do it. My
acquirements in Russian were limited to "Yes," "No," and "How do you
do?" and none of these expressions seemed fully to meet the emergency.
Desirous, however, of sustaining the national reputation for
politeness, as well as of showing my good-will to the bride, I
selected the last of the phrases as probably the most appropriate, and
walking solemnly, and I fear awkwardly, up I asked the bride with a
very low bow, and in very bad Russian--how she did; she graciously
replied, "Cherasvwechiano khorasho pakornashae vass blagadoroo," and
the distinguished American retired with a proud consciousness of
having done his duty. I was not very much enlightened as to the state
of the bride's health; but, judging from the facility with which she
rattled off this tremendous sentence, we concluded that she must be
well. Nothing but a robust constitution and the most excellent health
would have enabled her to do it. Convulsed with laughter, Dodd and I
made our escape from the church and returned to our quarters. I have
since been informed by the Major that the marriage ceremony of the
Greek Church, when properly performed, has a peculiar impressiveness
and solemnity; but I shall never be able to see it now without having
my solemnity overcome by the recollection of that poor Cossack,
stumbling around the altar after the priest with his head extinguished
in a crown!

From the moment when the Major decided upon the overland journey
through Kamchatka, he devoted all his time and energies to the work of
preparation. Boxes covered with sealskin, and intended to be hung from
pack-saddles, were prepared for the transportation of our stores;
tents, bearskins, and camp equipage were bought and packed away in
ingeniously contrived bundles; and everything that native experience
could suggest for lessening the hardships of outdoor life was provided
in quantities sufficient for two months' journey. Horses were then
ordered from all the adjacent villages, and a special courier was sent
throughout the peninsula by the route that we intended to follow, with
orders to apprise the natives everywhere of our coming, and to direct
them to remain at home with all their horses until after our party
should pass.

Thus prepared, we set out on the 4th of September for the Far North.

The peninsula of Kamchatka, through which we were about to travel, is
a long irregular tongue of land lying east of the Okhotsk Sea, between
the fifty-first and sixty-second degrees of north latitude, and
measuring in extreme length about seven hundred miles. It is almost
entirely of volcanic formation, and the great range of rugged
mountains by which it is longitudinally divided comprises even now
five or six volcanoes in a state of almost uninterrupted activity.
This immense chain of mountains, which has never even been named,
stretches from the fifty-first to the sixtieth degree of latitude in
one almost continuous ridge, and at last breaks off abruptly into the
Okhotsk Sea, leaving to the northward a high level steppe called
the "dole" or desert, which is the wandering ground of the Reindeer
Koraks. The central and southern parts of the peninsula are broken
up by the spurs and foot-hills of the great mountain range into deep
sequestered valleys of the wildest and most picturesque character, and
afford scenery which, for majestic and varied beauty, is not surpassed
in all northern Asia. The climate everywhere, except in the extreme
north, is comparatively mild and equable, and the vegetation has an
almost tropical freshness and luxuriance totally at variance with all
one's ideas of Kamchatka. The population of the peninsula I estimate
from careful observation at about 5000, and it is made up of three
distinct classes--the Russians, the Kamchadals or settled natives, and
the Wandering Koraks. The Kamchadals, who compose the most numerous
class, are settled in little log villages throughout the peninsula,
near the mouths of small rivers which rise in the central range
of mountains and fall into the Okhotsk Sea or the Pacific. Their
principal occupations are fishing, fur-trapping, and the cultivation
of rye, turnips, cabbages, and potatoes, which grow thriftily as far
north as lat. 58°. Their largest settlements are in the fertile
valley of the Kamchatka River, between Petropavlovsk and Kluchei
(kloo-chay'). The Russians, who are comparatively few in number,
are scattered here and there among the Kamchadal villages, and are
generally engaged in trading for furs with the Kamchadals and the
nomadic tribes to the northward. The Wandering Koraks, who are the
wildest, most powerful, and most independent natives in the peninsula,
seldom come south of the 58th parallel of latitude, except for the
purpose of trade. Their chosen haunts are the great desolate steppes
lying east of Penzhinsk (pen'-zhinsk) Gulf, where they wander
constantly from place to place in solitary bands, living in large fur
tents and depending for subsistence upon their vast herds of tamed and
domesticated reindeer. The government under which all the inhabitants
of Kamchatka nominally live is administered by a Russian officer
called an "ispravnik" (is-prav'-nik) or local governor [Footnote:
Strictly, a chief of district police.] who is supposed to settle all
questions of law which may arise between individuals or tribes, and to
collect the annual "yassák" or tax of furs, which is levied upon every
male inhabitant in his province. He resides in Petropavlovsk, and
owing to the extent of country over which he has jurisdiction, and the
imperfect facilities which it affords for getting about, he is seldom
seen outside of the village where he has his headquarters. The only
means of transportation between the widely separated settlements of
the Kamchadals are packhorses, canoes, and dog-sledges, and there is
not such a thing as a road in the whole peninsula. I may have occasion
hereafter to speak of "roads," but I mean by the word nothing more
than the geometrician means by a "line"--simple longitudinal extension
without any of the sensible qualities which are popularly associated
with it.

[Illustration: A TENT OF THE WANDERING KORAKS IN SUMMER]

Through this wild, sparsely populated region, we purposed to travel by
hiring the natives along our route to carry us with their horses from
one settlement to another until we should reach the territory of the
Wandering Koraks. North of that point we could not depend upon any
regular means of transportation, but would be obliged to trust to luck
and the tender mercies of the arctic nomads.

[Illustration: Reindeer Bridle and Snow Shovel.]



CHAPTER VII


STARTING NORTHWARD--KAMCHATKAN SCENERY, VILLAGES, AND PEOPLE

I cannot remember any journey in my whole life which gave me more
enjoyment at the time, or which is more pleasant in recollection, than
our first horseback ride of 275 versts over the flowery hills and
through the green valleys of southern Kamchatka. Surrounded as we
continually were by the wildest and most beautiful scenery in all
northern Asia, experiencing for the first time the novelty and
adventurous excitement of camp life, and rejoicing in a newly found
sense of freedom and perfect independence, we turned our backs gaily
on civilisation, and rode away with light hearts into the wilderness,
making the hills ring to the music of our songs and halloos.

Our party, aside from drivers and guides, consisted of four men--Major
Abaza, chief of Asiatic exploration, Dodd the young American, whom we
had engaged in Petropavlovsk, Viushin (view'-shin) a Cossack orderly,
and myself. The biting sarcasm directed by Mithridates at the army of
Lucullus--that if they came as ambassadors they were too many, if as
soldiers too few--would have applied with equal force to our small
party made up as it was of only four men; but strength is not always
to be measured by numbers, and we had no fears that we should not be
able to cope with any obstacles which might lie in our way. We could
certainly find subsistence where a larger party might starve.

On Sunday, September 3d, our horses were loaded and despatched in
advance to a small village on the opposite side of the bay, where we
intended to meet them with a whale-boat. On Monday the 4th, we made
our farewell calls upon the Russian authorities, drank an inordinate
quantity of champagne to our own health and success, and set out
in two whale-boats for Avacha, accompanied by the whole American
population of Petropavlovsk. Crossing the bay under spritsail and jib,
with a slashing breeze from the south-west, we ran swiftly into the
mouth of the Avacha River, and landed at the village to refresh
ourselves for the fifteenth time with "fifteen drops," and take leave
of our American friends, Pierce, Hunter, and Fronefield. Copious
libations were poured out to the tutelary saint of Kamchatkan
explorers, and giving and receiving three hearty cheers we pushed off
and began to make our way slowly up the river with poles and paddles
toward the Kamchadal settlement of Okuta (o-koo'-tah).

Our native crew, sharing in the universal dissipation which had
attended our departure, and wholly unaccustomed to such reckless
drinking, were reduced by this time to a comical state of happy
imbecility, in which they sang Kamchadal songs, blessed the Americans,
and fell overboard alternately, without contributing in any marked
degree to the successful navigation of our heavy whale-boat. Viushin,
however, with characteristic energy, hauled the drowning wretches in
by their hair, rapped them over the head with a paddle to restore
consciousness, pushed the boat off sand-bars, kept its head up stream,
poled, rowed, jumped into the water, shouted, swore, and proved
himself fully equal to any emergency.

It was considerably after noon when we left Petropavlovsk, and owing
to the incompetency of our Kamchadal crew, and the frequency of
sand-bars, night overtook us on the river some distance below Okuta.
Selecting a place where the bank was dry and accessible, we beached
our whale-boat and prepared for our first bivouac in the open air.
Beating down the high wet grass, Viushin pitched our little cotton
tent, carpeted it with warm, dry bearskins, improvised a table and
a cloth out of an empty candle-box and a clean towel, built a fire,
boiled tea, and in twenty minutes set before us a hot supper which
would not have done discredit to the culinary skill of Soyer himself.
After supper we sat by the fire smoking and talking until the long
twilight died away in the west, and then, rolling ourselves up in
heavy blankets, we lay down on our bearskins and listened to the low
quacking of a half-awakened duck in the sedges, and the lonely cries
of night birds on the river until at last we fell asleep.

Day was just breaking in the east when I awoke. The mist, which for a
week had hung in grey clouds around the mountains, had now vanished,
and the first object which met my eyes through the open door of the
tent was the great white cone of Villuchinski gleaming spectrally
through the greyness of the dawn. As the red flush in the east
deepened, all nature seemed to awake. Ducks and geese quacked from
every bunch of reeds along the shore; the strange wailing cries of
sea-gulls could be heard from the neighbouring coast; and from the
clear, blue sky came down the melodious trumpeting of wild swans, as
they flew inland to their feeding-places. I washed my face in the
clear, cold water of the river, and waked Dodd to see the mountains.
Directly behind our tent, in one unbroken sheet of snow, rose the
colossal peak of Korátskoi (ko-rat'-skoi), ten thousand five hundred
feet in height, its sharp white summit already crimsoning with the
rays of the rising sun, while the morning star yet throbbed faintly
over the cool purple of its eastern slope. A little to the right was
the huge volcano of Avacha, with a long banner of golden smoke hung
out from its broken summit, and the Raselskoi (rah'-sel-skoi) volcano
puffing out dark vapour from three craters. Far down the coast, thirty
miles away, stood the sharp peak of Villúchinski, with the watch-fires
of morning already burning upon its summit, and beyond it the hazy
blue outlines of the coast range. Shreds of fleecy mist here and there
floated up the mountain sides, and vanished like the spirits of
the night dews rising from earth to heaven in bright resurrection.
Steadily the warm, rosy flush of sunrise crept down the snowy slopes
of the mountains, until at last, with a quick sudden burst, it poured
a flood of light into the valley, tinging our little white tent with a
delicate pink, like that of a wild-rose petal, turning every pendent
dewdrop into a twinkling brilliant, and lighting up the still water
of the river, until it became a quivering, flashing mass of liquid
silver.

  "I'm not romantic, but, upon my word,
  There are some moments when one can't help feeling
  As if his heart's chords were so strongly stirred
  By things around him, that 'tis vain concealing
  A little music in his soul still lingers,
  Whene'er the keys are touched by Nature's fingers."

I was just delivering the above quotation in impassioned style, when
Dodd, who never allowed his enthusiasm for the beauties of nature to
interfere with a proper regard for the welfare of his stomach, emerged
from the tent, and, with a mock solemn apology for interrupting
my soliloquy, said that if I could bring my mind down to the
contemplation of material things he would inform me that breakfast
was ready, and begged to suggest that the little music in my soul be
allowed to "linger," since it could do so with less detriment than the
said breakfast. The force of this suggestion, seconded as it was by a
savoury odour from the interior of the tent, could not be denied. I
went, but still continued between the spoonfuls of hot soup to "rave,"
as Dodd expressed it, about the scenery. After breakfast the tent was
struck, camp equipage packed up, and taking seats in the stern-sheets
of our whale-boat we pushed off and resumed our slow ascent of the
river.

The vegetation everywhere, untouched as yet by the autumn frosts,
seemed to have an almost tropical luxuriance. High wild grass, mingled
with varicoloured flowers, extended to the very river's brink; Alpine
roses and cinquefoil grew in dense thickets along the bank, and
dropped their pink and yellow petals like fairy boats upon the surface
of the clear still water; yellow columbine drooped low over the
river, to see its graceful image mirrored beside that of the majestic
volcano; and strange black Kamchatkan lilies, with downcast looks,
stood here and there in sad loneliness, mourning in funeral garb some
unknown flowery bereavement.

Nor was animal life wanting to complete the picture. Wild ducks, with
long outstretched necks, shot past us, continually in their swift
level flight, uttering hoarse quacks of curiosity and apprehension;
the honking of geese came to us, softened by distance, from the
higher slopes of the mountains; and now and then a magnificent eagle,
startled from his solitary watch on some jutting rock, expanded his
broad-barred wings, launched himself into air, and soared upward in
ever-widening circles until he became a mere moving speck against
the white snowy crater of the Avachinski volcano. Never had I seen a
picture of such wild primitive loneliness as that presented by
this beautiful fertile valley, encircled by smoking volcanoes and
snow-covered mountains, yet green as the Vale of Tempe, teeming with
animal and vegetable life, yet solitary, uninhabited by man, and
apparently unknown. About noon the barking of dogs announced our
approach to a settlement, and turning an abrupt bend in the river we
came in sight of the Kamchadal village of Okuta (o-koo'-tah).

A Kamchadal village differs in some respects so widely from an
American frontier settlement, that it is worthy, perhaps, of a brief
description. It is situated generally on a little elevation near the
bank of some river or stream, surrounded by scattered clumps of poplar
and yellow birch, and protected by high hills from the cold northern
winds. Its houses, which are clustered irregularly together near the
beach, are very low, and are made of logs squared and notched at the
ends, and chinked with masses of dry moss. The roofs are covered with
a rough thatch of long coarse grass or with overlapping strips of
tamarack bark, and project at the ends and sides into wide overhanging
eaves. The window-frames, although occasionally glazed, are more
frequently covered with an irregular patchwork of translucent fish
bladders, sewn together with thread made of the dried and pounded
sinews of the reindeer. The doors are almost square, and the chimneys
are nothing but long straight poles, arranged in a circle and
plastered over thickly with clay. Here and there between the houses
stand half a dozen curious architectural quadrupeds called "balagáns"
(bah-lah-gans'), or fish storehouses. They are simply conical log
tents, elevated from the ground on four posts to secure their contents
from the dogs, and resemble as much as anything small haystacks trying
to walk away on four legs. High square frames of horizontal poles
stand beside every house, filled with thousands of drying salmon; and
"an ancient and fish-like smell," which pervades the whole atmosphere,
betrays the nature of the Kamchadals' occupation and of the food upon
which they live. Half a dozen dugout canoes lie bottom upward on the
sandy shelving beach, covered with large neatly tied seines; two or
three long, narrow dog-sledges stand up on their ends against every
house, and a hundred or more sharp-eared wolfish dogs, tied at
intervals to long heavy poles, lie panting in the sun, snapping
viciously at the flies and mosquitoes which disturb their rest. In the
centre of the village, facing the west, stands, in all the glory of
Kamchatko-Byzantine architecture, red paint, and glittering domes,
the omnipresent Greek church, contrasting strangely with the rude log
houses and conical _balagáns_ over which it extends the spiritual
protection of its resplendent golden cross. It is built generally of
carefully hewn logs, painted a deep brick-red, covered with a green
sheet-iron roof, and surmounted by two onion-shaped domes of tin
which are sometimes coloured sky-blue and spangled with golden
stars. Standing with all its glaring contrasts of colour among a few
unpainted log houses in a primitive wilderness, it has a strange
picturesque appearance not easily described. If you can imagine a
rough American backwoods settlement of low log houses clustered round
a gaily coloured Turkish mosque, half a dozen small haystacks mounted
on high vertical posts, fifteen or twenty Titanic wooden gridirons
similarly elevated and hung full of drying fish, a few dog-sledges and
canoes lying carelessly around, and a hundred or more grey wolves tied
here and there between the houses to long heavy poles, you will have a
general but tolerably accurate idea of a Kamchadal settlement of the
better class. They differ somewhat in respect to their size and their
churches; but the grey log houses, conical _balagáns_ drying fish,
wolfish dogs, canoes, sledges, and fishy odours are all invariable
features.

The inhabitants of these native settlements in southern Kamchatka
are a dark swarthy race, considerably below the average stature of
Siberian natives, and are very different in all their characteristics
from the wandering tribes of Koraks and Chukchis who live farther
north. The men average perhaps five feet three or four inches in
height, have broad flat faces, prominent cheek bones, small and rather
sunken eyes, no beards, long, lank, black hair, small hands and feet,
very slender limbs, and a tendency to enlargement and protrusion of
the abdomen. They are probably of central Asiatic origin, but they
certainly have had no very recent connection with any other Siberian
tribe with which I am acquainted, and are not at all like the
Chukchis, Koraks, Yakuts (yah-koots'), or Tunguses (toon-goo'-ses).
From the fact of their living a settled instead of a wandering life
they were brought under Russian subjection much more easily than their
nomadic neighbours, and have since experienced in a greater degree the
civilising influences of Russian intercourse. They have adopted almost
universally the religion, customs, and habits of their conquerors, and
their own language, which is a very curious one, is already falling
into disuse. It would be easy to describe their character by
negatives. They are not independent, self-reliant, or of a combative
disposition like the northern Chukchis and Koraks; they are not
avaricious or dishonest, except where those traits are the results of
Russian education; they are not suspicious or distrustful, but rather
the contrary; and for generosity, hospitality, simple good faith, and
easy, equable good-nature under all circumstances, I have never met
their equals. As a race they are undoubtedly becoming extinct.
Since 1780, they have diminished in numbers more than one half, and
frequently recurring epidemics and famines will soon reduce them to
a comparatively weak and unimportant tribe, which will finally be
absorbed in the growing Russian population of the peninsula. They have
already lost most of their distinctive customs and superstitions, and
only an occasional sacrifice of a dog to some malignant spirit of
storm or disease enables the modern traveller to catch a glimpse of
their original paganism. They depend mainly for subsistence upon the
salmon, which every summer run into these northern rivers in immense
numbers to spawn, and are speared, caught in seines, and trapped in
weirs by thousands. These fish, dried without salt in the open air,
are the food of the Kamchadals and of their dogs throughout the long,
cold northern winter. During the summer, however, their bill of fare
is more varied. The climate and soil of the river bottoms in southern
Kamchatka admit of the cultivation of rye, potatoes, and turnips, and
the whole peninsula abounds in animal life. Reindeer and black and
brown bears roam everywhere over the mossy plains and through the
grassy valleys; wild sheep and a species of ibex are not unfrequently
found in the mountains; and millions upon millions of ducks, geese,
and swans, in almost endless variety, swarm about every river and
little marshy lake throughout the country. These aquatic fowls are
captured in great multitudes while moulting by organised "drives" of
fifty or seventy-five men in canoes, who chase the birds in one
great flock up some narrow stream, at the end of which a huge net
is arranged for their reception. They are then killed with clubs,
cleaned, and salted for winter use. Tea and sugar have been introduced
by the Russians, and have been received with great favour, the
annual consumption now being more than 20,000 pounds of each in the
Kamchatkan peninsula alone. Bread is now made of rye, which the
Kamchadals raise and grind for themselves; but previous to the
settlement of the country by the Russians, the only native substitute
for bread was a sort of baked paste, consisting chiefly of the
grated tubers of the purple Kamchatkan lily. [Footnote: A species of
fritillaria.] The only fruits in the country are berries and a species
of wild cherry. Of the berries, however, there are fifteen or twenty
different kinds, of which the most important are blueberries,
"maróshkas" (mah-ro'-shkas), or yellow cloud-berries, and dwarf
cranberries. These the natives pick late in the fall, and freeze
for winter consumption. Cows are kept in nearly all the Kamchadal
settlements, and milk is always plenty. A curious native dish of sour
milk, baked curds, and sweet cream, covered with powdered sugar and
cinnamon, is worthy of being placed upon a civilised table.

It will thus be seen that life in a Kamchatkan settlement,
gastronomically considered, is not altogether so disagreeable as we
have been led to believe. I have seen natives in the valley of the
Kamchatka as pleasantly situated, and enjoying as much comfort and
almost as many luxuries, as nine tenths of the settlers upon the
frontiers of our western States and Territories.


[Illustration: Travelling Bag made of Reindeer skin]



CHAPTER VIII


BRIDLE PATHS OP SOUTHERN KAMCHATKA--HOUSES AND FOOD OF THE
PEOPLE--REINDEER TONGUES AND WILD-ROSE PETALS--A KAMCHATKAN DRIVER'S
CANTICLE

At Okuta we found our horses and men awaiting our arrival; and after
eating a hasty lunch of bread, milk, and blueberries in a little
native house, we clambered awkwardly into our saddles, and filed away
in a long irregular line through the woods, Dodd and I taking the
advance, singing _Bonnie Dundee_.

We kept continually near the group of mountains which had presented so
beautiful an appearance in the morning; but, owing to the forest of
birch and mountain ash which clothed the foot-hills, we caught only
occasional glimpses between the tree-tops of their white snowy
summits.

Just before sunset, we rode into another little native village, whose
ingeniously constructed name defied all my inexperienced attempts to
pronounce it or write it down. Dodd was good-natured enough to
repeat it to me five or six times; but as it sounded worse and more
unintelligible every time, I finally called it Jerusalem, and let it
go at that. For the sake of geographical accuracy I have so marked it
down on my map; but let no future commentator point to it triumphantly
as a proof that the lost tribes of Israel emigrated to Kamchatka;
I don't believe that they did, and I know that this unfortunate
settlement, before I took pity on it and called it Jerusalem, was
distinguished by a name so utterly barbarous that neither the Hebrew
alphabet nor any other known to ancient literature could have begun to
do it justice.

Tired by the unusual exercise of horseback riding, I entered Jerusalem
at a walk, and throwing my bridle to a Kamchadal in blue nankeen
shirt and buckskin trousers, who saluted me with a reverential bow, I
wearily dismounted and entered the house which Viushin indicated as
the one we were to occupy.

The best room, which had been prepared for our reception, was a low
bare apartment about twelve feet square, whose walls, ceiling, and
floor of unpainted birch planks were scoured to a smooth snowy purity
which would have been creditable even to the neat housewives of the
Dutch paradise of Broek. An immense clay oven, neatly painted red,
occupied one side of the room; a bench, three or four rude chairs, and
a table, were arranged with severe propriety against the other. Two
windows of glass, shaded by flowery calico curtains, admitted the
warm sunshine; a few coarse American lithographs hung here and there
against the wall; and the air of perfect neatness, which prevailed
everywhere, made us suddenly and painfully conscious of our own muddy
boots and rough attire. No tools except axes and knives had been
used in the construction of the house or of its furniture; but the
unplaned, unpainted boards had been diligently scrubbed with water
and sand to a delicate creamy whiteness, which made amends for all
rudeness of workmanship. There was not a plank in the floor from which
the most fastidious need have hesitated to eat. The most noticeable
peculiarity of this, as of all the other Kamchadal houses which we saw
in southern Kamchatka, was the lowness of its doors. They seemed to
have been designed for a race of beings whose only means of locomotion
were hands and knees, and to enter them without making use of those
means required a flexibility of spinal vertebrae only to be acquired
by long and persevering practice. Viushin and Dodd, who had travelled
in Kamchatka before, experienced no difficulty in accommodating
themselves to this peculiarity of native architecture; but the Major
and I, during the first two weeks of our journey, bore upon the fore
parts of our heads, bumps whose extraordinary size and irregularity
of development would have puzzled even Spurzheim and Gall. If the
abnormal enlargement of the bumps had only been accompanied by a
corresponding enlargement of the respective faculties, there would
have been some compensation for this disfiguration of our heads; but
unfortunately "perception" might be suddenly developed by the lintel
of a door until it looked like a goose-egg, without enabling us to
perceive the very next beam which came in our way until after we had
struck our heads against it.

The Cossack who had been sent through the peninsula as an
avant-courier to notify the natives of our coming, had carried the
most exaggerated reports of our power and importance, and elaborate
preparations had been made by the Jerusalemites for our reception.
The house that was to be honoured by our presence had been carefully
scrubbed, swept, and garnished; the women had put on their most
flowery calico dresses, and tied their hair up in their brightest silk
handkerchiefs; most of the children's faces had been painfully washed
and polished with soap, water, and wads of fibrous hemp; the whole
village had been laid under contribution to obtain the requisite
number of plates, cups, and spoons, for our supper-table, while
offerings of ducks, reindeer-tongues, blueberries, and clotted cream
poured in upon us with a profusion which testified to the good-will
and hospitality of the inhabitants, as well as to their ready
appreciation of tired travellers' wants. In an hour we sat down, with
appetites sharpened by the pure mountain air, to an excellent supper
of cold roast duck, broiled reindeer-tongues, black-bread and fresh
butter, blueberries and cream, and wild-rose petals crushed with white
sugar into a rich delicious jam. We had come to Kamchatka with minds
and mouths heroically made up for an unvarying diet of blubber, tallow
candles, and train-oil; but imagine our surprise and delight at being
treated instead to such Sybaritic luxuries as purple blueberries,
cream, and preserved rose-leaves! Did Lucullus ever feast upon
preserved rose-petals in his, vaunted pleasure-gardens of Tusculum?
Never! The original recipe for the preparation of celestial ambrosia
had been lost before ever "Lucullus supped with Lucullus"; but it was
rediscovered by the despised inhabitants of Kamchatka, and is now
offered, to the world as the first contribution of the Hyperboreans to
gastronomical science. Take equal quantities of white loaf sugar
and the petals of the Alpine rose, add a little juice of crushed
blueberries, macerate together to a rich crimson paste, serve in the
painted cups of trumpet honeysuckles, and imagine yourself feasting
with the gods upon the summit of high Olympus!

As soon as possible after supper, I stretched myself out upon the
floor under a convenient table, which answered practically and
aesthetically all the purposes of a four-post bedstead, inflated my
little rubber pillow, rolled myself up, _à la_ mummy, in a blanket,
and slept.

The Major, always an early riser, was awake on the following morning
at daylight. Dodd and I, with a coincidence of opinion as rare as it
was gratifying, regarded early rising as a relic of barbarism which no
American, with a proper regard for the civilisation of the nineteenth
century, would demean himself by encouraging. We had therefore entered
into a mutual agreement upon this occasion to sleep peacefully until
the "caravan," as Dodd irreverently styled it, should be ready to
start, or at least until we should receive a summons for breakfast.
Soon after daybreak, however, a terrific row began about something,
and with a vague impression that I was attending a particularly
animated primary meeting in the Ninth Ward, I sprang up, knocked my
head violently against a table-leg, opened my eyes in amazement, and
stared wildly at the situation. The Major, in a scanty _déshabillé,_
was storming furiously about the room, cursing our frightened drivers
in classical Russian, because the horses had all stampeded during the
night and gone, as he said with expressive simplicity, "Chort
tolko znal kooda"--"the devil only knew where." This was rather an
unfortunate beginning of our campaign; but in the course of two hours
most of the wandering beasts were found, packs were adjusted, and
after an unnecessary amount of profanity from the drivers, we turned
our backs on Jerusalem and rode slowly away over the rolling grassy
foot-hills of the Avachinski volcano.

It was a warm, beautiful Indian summer day, and a peculiar stillness
and Sabbath-like quiet seemed to pervade all nature. The leaves of the
scattering birches and alders along the trail hung motionless in the
warm sunshine, the drowsy cawing of a crow upon a distant larch came
to our ears with strange distinctness, and we even imagined that we
could hear the regular throbbing of the surf upon the far-away coast.
A faint murmurous hum of bees was in the air, and a rich fruity
fragrance came up from the purple clusters of blueberries which our
horses crushed under foot at every step. All things seemed to unite
in tempting the tired traveller to stretch himself out on the warm
fragrant grass, and spend the day in luxurious idleness, listening to
the buzzing of the sleepy bees, inhaling the sweet smell of crushed
blueberries, and watching the wreaths of curling smoke which rose
lazily from the lofty crater of the great white volcano. I laughingly
said to Dodd that instead of being in Siberia--the frozen land of
Russian exiles--we had apparently been transported by some magical
Arabian Night's contrivance to the clime of the "Lotus Eaters," which
would account for the dreamy, drowsy influence of the atmosphere.
"Clime of the Lotus Eaters be hanged!" he broke out impetuously,
making a furious slap at his face; "the poet doesn't say that the
Lotus Eaters were eaten up themselves by such cursed mosquitoes as
these, and they're sufficient evidence that we're in Kamchatka--they
don't grow as big as bumblebees in any other country!" I reminded him
mildly that according to Walton--old Isaac--every misery we missed was
a new mercy, and that, consequently, he ought to be thankful for every
mosquito that didn't bite him. His only reply was that he "wished he
had old Isaac there." What summary reprisals were to be made upon old
Isaac I did not know, but it was evident that Dodd did not approve of
his philosophy, or of my attempt at consolation, so I desisted.

Maximof (max-im'-off), the chief of our drivers, labouring under a
vague impression that, because everything was so still and quiet, it
must be Sunday, rode slowly through the scattered clumps of silver
birch which shaded the trail, chanting in a loud, sonorous voice a
part of the service of the Greek Church, suspending this devotional
exercise, occasionally, to curse his vagrant horses in a style which
would have excited the envy and admiration of the most profane trooper
of the army in Flanders.

"Oh! let my pray-er be-e-e (_Here! you pig! Keep in the road_!)
set forth as the in-cense; and let the lifting up of my han-n-n-ds
be--(_Get up! you korova! You old, blind, broken-legged son of the
Evil Spirit! Where you going to_!)--an eve-n-ing sacrifice: let not my
heart be inclined to--(_Lie down again, will you! Thwack? Take that,
you old sleepy-headed svinya proclatye_!)--any e-vil thing; let me not
be occupied with any evil works (_Akh! What a horse! Bokh s'nim_!).
Set a watch before my mouth, and keep the do-o-o-r of my lips--(_Whoa!
You merzavitz! What did you run into that tree for? Ecca voron!
Podletz! Slepoi takoi! Chart tibi vasmee_!)"--and Maximof lapsed
into a strain of such ingenious and metaphorical profanity that my
imagination was left to supply the deficiencies of my imperfect
comprehension. He did not seem to be conscious of any inconsistency
between the chanted psalm and the profane interjections by which
it was accompanied; but, even if he had been fully aware of it, he
probably would have regarded the chanting as a fair offset to the
profanity, and would have gone on his way with serene indifference,
fully assured that if he sang a sacred verse every time he swore, his
celestial account must necessarily balance!

The road, or rather trail, from Jerusalem turned away to the westward,
and wound around the bases of a range of low bare mountains, through a
dense forest of poplar and birch. Now and then we would come out into
little grassy openings, where the ground was covered with blueberries,
and every eye would be on the lookout for bears; but all was still and
motionless--even the grasshoppers chirping sleepily and lazily, as
if they too were about to yield to the somnolence which seemed to
overpower all nature.

To escape the mosquitoes, whose relentless persecution became almost
unendurable, we rode on more briskly through a broad, level valley,
filled with a dense growth of tall umbelliferous plants, trotted
swiftly up a little hill, and rode at a thundering gallop into the
village of Korak, amid the howling and barking of a hundred and fifty
half-wild dogs, the neighing of horses, running to and fro of men, and
a scene of general confusion.

At Korak we changed most of our horses and men, ate an _al fresco_
lunch under the projecting eaves of a mossy Kamchadal house, and
started at two o'clock for Malqua, another village, fifty or sixty
miles distant, across the watershed of the Kamchatka River. About
sunset, after a brisk ride of fifteen or eighteen miles, we suddenly
emerged from the dense forest of poplar, birch, and mountain ash which
had shut in the trail, and came out into a little grassy opening,
about an acre in extent, which seemed to have been made expressly with
a view to camping out. It was surrounded on three sides by woods, and
opened on the fourth into a wild mountain gorge, choked up with rocks,
logs, and a dense growth of underbrush and weeds. A clear cold stream
tumbled in a succession of tinkling cascades down the dark ravine, and
ran in a sandy flower-bordered channel through the grassy glade, until
it disappeared in the encircling forest. It was useless to look for
a better place than this to spend the night, and we decided to stop
while we still had daylight. To picket our horses, collect wood for a
fire, hang over our teakettles, and pitch our little cotton tent, was
the work of only a few moments, and we were soon lying at full length
upon our warm bearskins, around our towel-covered candle-box, drinking
hot tea, discussing Kamchatka, and watching the rosy flush of sunset
as it slowly faded over the western mountains.

As I was lulled to sleep that night by the murmuring plash of falling
water, and the tinkling of our horses' bells from the forest behind
our tent, I thought that nothing could be more delightful than camp
life in Kamchatka.

We reached Malqua on the following day, in a generally exhausted
and used-up condition. The road had been terribly rough and broken,
running through narrow ravines blocked up with rocks and fallen trees,
across wet mossy swamps, and over rugged precipitous hills, where we
dared not attempt to ride our horses. We were thrown repeatedly from
our saddles; our provision-boxes were smashed against trees, and wet
through by sinking in swamps; girths gave way, drivers swore, horses
fell down, and we all came to grief, individually and collectively.
The Major, unaccustomed as he was to these vicissitudes of Kamchatkan
travel, held out like a Spartan; but I noticed that for the last ten
miles he rode upon a pillow, and shouted at short intervals to Dodd,
who, with stoical imperturbability, was riding quietly in advance:
"Dodd! oh, Dodd! haven't we got most to that _con-found-ed_ Malqua
yet?" Dodd would strike his horse a sharp blow with a willow switch,
turn half round in his saddle, and reply, with a quizzical smile, that
we were "not most there yet, but would be soon!"--an equivocal sort of
consolation which did not inspire us with much enthusiasm. At last,
when it had already begun to grow dark, we saw a high column of white
steam in the distance, which rose, Dodd and Viushin said, from the hot
springs of Malqua; and in fifteen minutes we rode, tired, wet, and
hungry, into the settlement. Supper was a secondary consideration with
me _that_ night. All I wanted was to crawl under a table where no one
would step on me, and be let alone. I had never before felt such a
vivid consciousness of my muscular and osseous system. Every separate
bone and tendon in my body asserted its individual existence by a
distinct and independent ache, and my back in twenty minutes was as
inflexible as an iron ramrod. I felt a melancholy conviction that I
never should measure five feet ten inches again, unless I could lie on
some Procrustean bed and have my back stretched out to its original
longitude. Repeated perpendicular concussions had, I confidently
believed, telescoped my spinal vertebrae into each other, so that
nothing short of a surgical operation would ever restore them to their
original positions. Revolving in my mind such mournful considerations,
I fell asleep under a table, without even pulling off my boots.

[Illustration: Cap of brown and white fur]



CHAPTER IX


THE BEAUTIFUL VALLEY OF GENAL--WALLS OF LITERATURE--SCARING UP A
BEAR--END OF HORSEBACK RIDE

It was hard work on the following morning to climb again into the
saddle, but the Major was insensible to all appeals for delay. Stern
and inflexible as Rhadamanthus, he mounted stiffly upon his feather
pillow and gave the signal for a start. With the aid of two
sympathetic Kamchadals, who had perhaps experienced the misery of a
stiff back, I succeeded in getting astride a fresh horse, and we
rode away into the Genal (gen-ahl') valley--the garden of southern
Kamchatka.

The village of Malqua lies on the northern slope of the Kamchatka
River watershed, surrounded by low barren granite hills, and reminded
me a little in its situation of Virginia City, Nevada. It is noted
chiefly for its hot mineral springs, but as we did not have time to
visit these springs ourselves, we were compelled to take the natives'
word for their temperature and their medicinal properties, and content
ourselves with a distant view of the pillar of steam which marked
their location.

North of the village opens the long narrow valley of Genal--the most
beautiful as well as the most fertile spot in all the Kamchatkan
peninsula. It is about thirty miles in length, and averages three in
breadth, and is bounded on both sides by chains of high snow-covered
mountains, which stretch away from Malqua in a long vista of white
ragged peaks and sharp cliffs, almost to the head-waters of the
Kamchatka River. A small stream runs in a tortuous course through the
valley, fringed with long wild grass four or five feet in height, and
shaded here and there by clumps of birches, willows, and alders. The
foliage was beginning already to assume the brilliant colours of
early autumn, and broad stripes of crimson, yellow, and green ran
horizontally along the mountain sides, marking on a splendid chromatic
scale the successive zones of vegetation as they rose in regular
gradation from the level of the valley to the pure glittering snows of
the higher peaks.

As we approached the middle of the valley just before noon, the
scenery assumed a vividness of colour and grandeur of outline which
drew forth the most enthusiastic exclamations of delight from our
little party. For twenty-five miles in each direction lay the sunny
valley, through which the Genal River was stretched like a tangled
chain of silver, linking together the scattered clumps of birch and
thickets of alder, which at intervals diversified its banks. Like the
Happy Valley of Rasselas, it seemed to be shut out from the rest of
the world by impassable mountains, whose snowy peaks and pinnacles
rivalled in picturesque beauty, in variety and singularity of form,
the wildest dream of eastern architect. Half down their sides was a
broad horizontal belt of dark-green pines, thrown into strong and
beautiful contrast with the pure white snow of the higher summits and
the rich crimson of the mountain ash which flamed below. Here and
there the mountains had been cleft asunder by some Titanic power,
leaving deep narrow gorges and wild ravines where the sunlight could
hardly penetrate, and the eye was lost in soft purple haze. Imagine
with all this, a warm fragrant atmosphere and a deep blue sky in which
floated a few clouds, too ethereal even to cast shadows, and you will
perhaps have a faint idea of one of the most beautiful landscapes in
all Kamchatka. The Sierra Nevadas may afford views of more savage
wildness, but nowhere in California or Nevada have I ever seen the
distinctive features of both winter and summer--snow and roses, bare
granite and brilliantly coloured foliage--blended into so harmonious
a picture as that presented by the Genal valley on a sunshiny day in
early autumn.

Dodd and I devoted most of our leisure time during the afternoon to
picking and eating berries. Galloping furiously ahead until we
had left the caravan several miles behind, we would lie down in a
particularly luxuriant thicket by the river bank, tie our horses to
our feet, and bask in the sunshine and feast upon yellow honeyed
"moroshkas" (mo-ro'-shkas) and the dark purple globes of delicious
blueberries, until our clothes were stained with crimson spots, and
our faces and hands resembled those of a couple of Comanches painted
for the war-path.

The sun was yet an hour high when we approached the native village of
Genal. We passed a field where men and women were engaged in cutting
hay with rude sickles, returned their stare of amazement with
unruffled serenity, and rode on until the trail suddenly broke off
into a river beyond which stood the village.

Kneeling upon our saddles we succeeded in fording the shallow stream
without getting wet, but in a moment we came to another of about the
same size. We forded that, and were confronted by a third. This we
also passed, but at the appearance of the fourth river the Major
shouted despairingly to Dodd, "Ay! Dodd! How many _pagánni_ rivers do
we have to wade through in getting to this beastly village?" "Only
one," replied Dodd composedly. "One! Then how many times does this
one river run past this one settlement?" "Five times," was the calm
response. "You see," he explained soberly, "these poor Kamchadals
haven't got but one river to fish in, and that isn't a very big one,
so they have made it run past their settlement five times, and by this
ingenious contrivance they catch five times as many salmon as they
would if it only passed once!" The Major was surprised into silence,
and seemed to be considering some abstruse problem. Finally he raised
his eyes from the pommel of his saddle, transfixed the guilty Dodd
with a glance of severe rebuke, and demanded solemnly, "How many times
must a given fish swim past a given settlement, in order to supply the
population with food, provided the fish is caught every time he goes
past?" This _reductio ad absurdum_ was too much for Dodd's gravity;
he burst into a laugh, and digging his heels into his horse's ribs,
dashed with a great splatter into the fourth arm or bend of the river,
and rode up on the other side into the village of Genal.

We took up our quarters at the house of the "starosta" (stah'-ro-stah)
or head man of the village, and spread our bearskins out on the clean
white floor of a low room, papered in a funny way with old copies
of the _Illustrated London News_. A coloured American lithograph,
representing the kiss of reconciliation between two offended lovers,
hung against the wall on one side, and was evidently regarded with
a good deal of pride by the proprietor, as affording incontestable
evidence of culture and refined taste, and proving his familiar
acquaintance with American art, and the manners and customs of
American society.

Dodd and I, notwithstanding our fatigue, devoted the evening entirely
to literary pursuits; searching diligently with tallow candles over
the wall and ceiling for consecutive numbers of the _Illustrated
London News_, reading court gossip from a birch plank in the corner,
and obituaries of distinguished Englishmen from the back of a door. By
dint of industry and perseverance we finished one whole side of the
house before bedtime, and having gained a vast amount of valuable
information with regard to the war in New Zealand, we were encouraged
to pursue our investigations in the morning upon the three remaining
sides and the ceiling. To our great regret, however, we were obliged
to start on our pilgrimage without having time to find out how that
war terminated, and we have never been able to ascertain to this day!
Long before six o'clock we were off with fresh horses for a long ride
of ninety versts to Pushchin (poosh´-chin).

The costumes of our little party had now assumed a very motley and
brigandish appearance, every individual having discarded from time
to time, such articles of his civilised dress as proved to be
inconvenient or uncomfortable, and adopted various picturesque
substitutes, which filled more nearly the requirements of a barbarous
life. Dodd had thrown away his cap, and tied a scarlet and yellow
handkerchief around his head. Viushin had ornamented his hat with a
long streamer of crimson ribbon, which floated gayly in the wind
like a whip-pennant. A blue hunting-shirt and a red Turkish fez had
superseded my uniform coat and cap. We all carried rifles slung
across our backs, and revolvers belted around our waists, and were
transformed generally into as fantastic brigands as ever sallied
forth from the passes of the Apennines to levy blackmail upon unwary
travellers. A timid tourist, meeting us as we galloped furiously
across the plain toward Pushchin would have fallen on his knees and
pulled out his purse without asking any unnecessary questions.

Being well mounted on fresh, spirited horses, the Major, Dodd,
Viushin, and I rode far in advance of the rest of the party throughout
the day. Late in the afternoon, as we were going at a slashing rate
across the level plain known as the Kamchatkan _tundra_, [Footnote: A
treeless expanse carpeted with moss and low berry-bushes.] the Major
suddenly drew his horse violently back on his haunches, wheeled half
round, and shouted, "Medveid! medveid!" and a large black bear rose
silently out of the long grass at his very feet.

The excitement, I can conscientiously affirm, was terrific. Viushin
unslung his double-barrelled fowling-piece, and proceeded to pepper
him with duck-shot; Dodd tugged at his revolver with frantic energy
while his horse ran away with him over the plain; the Major dropped
his bridle, and implored me by all I held sacred not to shoot _him_,
while the horses plunged, kicked, and snorted in the most animated
manner. The only calm and self-possessed individual in the whole party
was the bear! He surveyed the situation coolly for a few seconds, and
then started at an awkward gallop for the woods. In an instant our
party recovered its conjoint presence of mind, and charged with the
most reckless heroism upon his flying footsteps, shouting frantically
to "stop him!" popping away in the most determined and unterrified
manner with four revolvers and a shotgun, and performing prodigies
of valour in the endeavour to capture the ferocious beast, without
getting in his way or coming nearer to him than a hundred yards. All
was in vain. The bear vanished in the forest like a flying shadow;
and, presuming from his known ferocity and vindictiveness that he had
prepared an ambuscade for us in the woods, we deemed it the better
part of valour to abandon the pursuit. Upon comparing notes, we found
that we had all been similarly impressed with his enormous size, his
shagginess, and his generally savage appearance, and had all been
inspired at the same moment with an irresistible inclination to take
him by the throat and rip him open with a bowie-knife, in a manner
so beautifully illustrated by the old geographies. Nothing but the
fractiousness of our horses and the rapidity of his flight had
prevented this desirable consummation. The Major even declared
positively that he had seen the bear a long time before, and only
rode over him "to scare him up," and said almost in the words of the
redoubtable Falstaff, "that if we would do him honour for it, so; if
not, we might scare up the next bear ourselves." Looking at the matter
calmly and dispassionately afterward, I thought it extremely probable
that if another bear did not scare the Major up, he never would go
out of his way to scare up another bear. We felt it to be our duty,
however, to caution him against imperilling the success of our
expedition by such reckless exploits in the way of scaring up wild
beasts.

Long before we reached Pushchin it grew dark; but our tired horses
freshened up after sunset, with the cool evening air, and about eight
o'clock we heard the distant howling of dogs, which we had already
come to associate with hot tea, rest, and sleep. In twenty minutes we
were lying comfortably on our bearskins in a Kamchadal house.

We had made sixty miles since daybreak; but the road had been good.
We were becoming more accustomed to horseback riding, and were by
no means so tired as we had been at Malqua. Only thirty versts now
intervened between us and the head-waters of the Kamchatka River,
where we were to abandon our horses and float down two hundred and
fifty miles on rafts or in native canoes.

A sharp trot of four hours over a level plain brought us on the
following morning to Sherom (sheh-rome´), where rafts had already been
prepared for our use.

It was with no little regret that I ended for the present my horseback
travel. The life suited me in every respect, and I could not recall
any previous journey which had ever afforded me more pure, healthful
enjoyment, or seemed more like a delightful pleasure excursion than
this. All Siberia, however, lay before us; and our regret at
leaving scenes which we should never again revisit was relieved by
anticipations of future adventures equally novel, and prospective
scenery grander even than anything which we had yet witnessed.



CHAPTER X


THE KAMCHATKA RIVER--LIFE ON A CANOE RAFT--RECEPTION AT
MILKOVA--MISTAKEN FOR THE TSAR

To a person of an indolent disposition there is something particularly
pleasant in floating in a boat down a river. One has all the
advantages of variety, and change of incident and scenery, without any
exertion; all the lazy pleasures--for such they must be called--of
boat life, without any of the monotony which makes a long sea voyage
so unendurable. I think it was Gray who said that his idea of paradise
was "To lie on a sofa and read eternally new romances of Marivaux and
Crebillon." Could the author of the "Elegy" have stretched himself out
on the open deck of a Kamchadal boat, covered to a depth of six inches
with fragrant flowers and freshly cut hay; could he have floated
slowly down a broad, tranquil river through ranges of snow-clad
mountains, past forests glowing with yellow and crimson, and vast
steppes waving with tall, wild grass; could he have watched the
full moon rise over the lonely, snowy peak of the Kluchefskoi
(kloo'-chef-skoi') volcano, bridging the river with a narrow trail
of quivering light, and have listened to the plash of the boatman's
paddles, and the low melancholy song to which they kept time--he would
have thrown Marivaux and Crebillon overboard, and have given a better
example of the pleasures of paradise.

I know that I am laying myself open to the charge of exaggeration by
thus praising Kamchatkan scenery, and that my enthusiasm will perhaps
elicit a smile of amusement from the more experienced traveller who
has seen Italy and the Alps; still, I am describing things as they
appeared to me, and do not assert that the impressions they made were
those that should or would have been made upon a man of more extensive
experience and wider observation. To use the words of a Spanish
writer, which I have somewhere read, "The man who has never seen the
glory of the sun cannot be blamed for thinking that there is no glory
like that of the moon; nor he who has never seen the moon, for talking
of the unrivalled brightness of the morning star." Had I ever sailed
down the Rhine, climbed the Matterhorn, or seen the moon rise over
the Bay of Naples, I should have taken perhaps a juster and less
enthusiastic view of Kamchatka; but, compared with anything that I had
previously seen or imagined, the mountain landscapes of southern and
central Kamchatka were superb.

At Sherom, thanks to the courier who had preceded us, we found a boat,
or Kamchatkan raft, ready for our reception. It was composed of three
large dugout canoes placed parallel to one another at distances of
about three feet, and lashed with sealskin thongs to stout transverse
poles. Over these was laid a floor or platform about ten feet by
twelve, leaving room at the bow and stern of each canoe for men with
paddles who were to guide and propel the unwieldy craft in some
unknown, but, doubtless, satisfactory manner. On the platform, which
was covered to a depth of six inches with freshly cut grass, we
pitched our little cotton tent, and transformed it with bearskins,
blankets, and pillows into a very cosy substitute for a stateroom.
Rifles and revolvers were unstrapped from our tired bodies, and hung
up against the tent poles; heavy riding boots were unceremoniously
kicked off, and replaced by soft buckskin _torbasses_ [Footnote:
Moccasin boots.]; saddles were stored away in convenient nooks for
future use; and all our things disposed with a view to the enjoyment
of as much luxury as was compatible with our situation.

After a couple of hours' rest, during which our heavy baggage was
transferred to another similar raft, we walked down to the sandy
beach, bade good-bye to the crowd which had assembled to see us off,
and swung slowly out into the current, the Kamchadals on the shore
waving hats and handkerchiefs until a bend in the river hid them from
sight. The scenery of the upper Kamchatka for the first twenty miles
was comparatively tame and uninteresting, as the mountains were
entirely concealed by a dense forest of pine, birch, and larch,
which extended down to the water's edge. It was sufficient pleasure,
however, at first, to lie back in the tent upon our soft bearskins,
watching the brilliantly coloured and ever varying foliage of the
banks, to sweep swiftly but silently around abrupt bends into long
vistas of still water, startling the great Kamchatkan eagle from
his lonely perch on some jutting rock, and frightening up clouds of
clamorous waterfowl, which flew in long lines down the river until out
of sight. The navigation of the upper Kamchatka is somewhat intricate
and dangerous at night, on account of the rapidity of the current and
the frequency of snags; and as soon as it grew dark our native boatmen
considered it unsafe to go on. We accordingly beached our rafts and
went ashore to wait for moonrise.

A little semicircle was cut in the thick underbrush at the edge of the
beach, fires were built, kettles of potatoes and fish hung over to
boil, and we all gathered around the cheerful blaze to smoke, talk,
and sing American songs until supper time. The scene to civilised eyes
was strangely wild and picturesque. The dark, lonely river gurgling
mournfully around sunken trees in its channel; the dense primeval
forest whispering softly to the passing wind its amazement at this
invasion of its solitude; the huge flaming camp-fire throwing a
red lurid glare over the still water, and lighting up weirdly the
encircling woods; and the groups of strangely dressed men lounging
carelessly about the blaze upon shaggy bearskins--all made up a
picture worthy of the pencil of Rembrandt.

After supper we amused ourselves by building an immense bonfire of
driftwood on the beach, and hurling blazing firebrands at the leaping
salmon as they passed up the river, and the frightened ducks which had
been roused from sleep by the unusual noise and light. When nothing
remained of our bonfire but a heap of glowing embers, we spread our
bearskins upon the soft, yielding sand by the water's edge, and lay
staring up at the twinkling stars until consciousness faded away into
dreams, and dreams into utter oblivion.

I was waked about midnight by the splashing of rain in my face and the
sobbing of the rising wind in the tree-tops, and upon crawling out of
my water-soaked blankets found that Dodd and the Major had brought the
tent ashore, pitched it among the trees, and availed themselves of
its shelter, but had treacherously left me exposed to a pelting
rain-storm, as if it were a matter of no consequence whatever whether
I slept in a tent or a mud-puddle! After mentally debating the
question whether I had better go inside or revenge myself by pulling
the tent down over their heads, I finally decided to escape from the
rain first and seek revenge at some more propitious time. Hardly had
I fallen asleep again when "spat" came the wet canvas across my face,
accompanied by a shout of "Get up! it is time to start"; and crawling
out from under the fallen tent I walked sullenly down to the raft,
revolving in my mind various ingenious schemes for getting even with
the Major and Dodd, who had first left me out in the rain, and then
waked me up in the middle of the night by pulling a wet tent down
over my head. It was one o'clock in the morning--dark, rainy, and
dismal--but the moon was supposed to have risen, and our Kamchadal
boatmen said that it was light enough to start. I didn't believe that
it was, but my sleepily expressed opinions had no weight with the
Major, and my protests were utterly ignored. Hoping in the bitterness
of my heart that we _should_ run against a snag, I lay down sullenly
in the rain on the wet soaking grass of our raft, and tried to forget
my misery in sleep. On account of the contrary wind we could not put
up our tent, and were obliged to cover ourselves as best we could with
oilcloth blankets and shiver away the remainder of the night.

About an hour after daylight we approached the Kamchadal settlement of
Milkova (mil'-ko-vah), the largest native village in the peninsula.
The rain had ceased, and the clouds were beginning to break away, but
the air was still cold and raw. A courier, who had been sent down in a
canoe from Sherom on the previous day, had notified the inhabitants of
our near approach, and the signal gun which we fired as we came round
the last bend of the river brought nearly the whole population running
helter-skelter to the beach. Our reception was "a perfect ovation."
The "city fathers," as Dodd styled them, to the number of twenty,
gathered in a body at the landing and began bowing, taking off their
hats, and shouting "Zdrastvuitie?" [Footnote: How do you do?] while we
were yet fifty yards from the shore; a salute was fired from a dozen
rusty flint-lock muskets, to the imminent hazard of our lives; and
a dozen natives waded into the water to assist us in getting safely
landed. The village stood a short distance back from the river's bank,
and the natives had provided for our transportation thither four
of the worst-looking horses that I had seen in Kamchatka. Their
equipments consisted of wooden saddles, modelled after the gables of
an angular house; stirrups about twelve inches in length, patched up
from discarded remnants of sealskin thongs; cruppers of bearskin,
and halters of walrus hide twisted around the animals' noses. The
excitement which prevailed when we proceeded to mount was unparalleled
I believe in the annals of that quiet settlement. I don't know how the
Major succeeded in getting upon his horse, but I do know that a
dozen long-haired Kamchadals seized Dodd and me, regardless of our
remonstrances, hauled us this way and that until the struggle to get
hold of some part of our unfortunate persons resembled the fight over
the dead body of Patroclus, and finally hoisted us triumphantly into
our saddles in a breathless and exhausted condition. One more such
hospitable reception would forever have incapacitated us for the
service of the Russian American Telegraph Company! I had only time to
cast a hurried glance back at the Major. He looked like a frightened
landsman straddling the end of a studdingsail-boom run out to leeward
on a fast clipper, and his face was screwed up into an expression of
mingled pain, amusement, and astonishment, which evidently did not
begin to do justice to his conflicting emotions. I had no opportunity
of expressing my sympathetic participation in his sufferings; for
an excited native seized the halter of my horse, three more with
reverently bared heads fell in on each side, and I was led away in
triumph to some unknown destination! The inexpressible absurdity of
our appearance did not strike me with its full force until I looked
behind me just before we reached the village. There were the Major,
Viushin, and Dodd, perched upon gaunt Kamchadal horses, with their
knees and chins on nearly the same level, half a dozen natives in
eccentric costumes straggling along by their sides at a dog-trot, and
a large procession of bareheaded men and boys solemnly bringing up
the rear, punching the horses with sharp sticks into a temporary
manifestation of life and spirit. It reminded me faintly of a Roman
triumph--the Major, Dodd, and I being the victorious heroes, and the
Kamchadals the captives, whom we had compelled to go _sub jugum_,
and who now graced our triumphal entry into the Seven-hilled City. I
mentioned this fancy of mine to Dodd, but he declared that one would
have had to do violence to his imagination to make "victorious heroes"
out of us on that occasion, and suggested "heroic victims" as equally
poetical and more in accordance with the facts. His severely practical
mind objected to any such fanciful idealisation of our misery. The
excitement increased rather than diminished as we entered the
village. Our motley escort gesticulated, ran to and fro, and shouted
unintelligible orders in the most frantic manner; heads appeared and
disappeared with startling kaleidoscopic abruptness at the windows
of the houses; and three hundred dogs contributed to the general
confusion by breaking out into an infernal canine peace jubilee which
fairly made the air quiver with sound. At last we stopped in front of
a large one-story log house, and were assisted by twelve or fifteen
natives to dismount and enter. As soon as Dodd could collect his
confused faculties he demanded: "What in the name of all the Russian
saints is the matter with this settlement; is everybody insane?"
Viushin was ordered to send for the _starosta_, or head man of the
village, and in a few moments he made his appearance, bowing with the
impressive persistency of a Chinese mandarin.

A prolonged colloquy then took place in Russian between the Major and
the _starosta_, broken by explanatory commentaries in the Kamchadal
language, which did not tend materially to elucidate the subject. An
evident and increasing disposition to smile gradually softened the
stern lines of the Major's face, until at last he burst into a laugh
of such infectious hilarity that, notwithstanding my ignorance of the
nature of the fun, I joined in with hearty sympathy. As soon as he
partially recovered his composure he gasped out, "The natives took you
for the Emperor!"--and then he went off in another spasm of merriment
which threatened to terminate either in suffocation or apoplexy.
Lost in bewilderment I could only smile feebly until he recovered
sufficiently to give me a more intelligible explanation of his mirth.
It appeared that the courier who had been sent from Petropavlovsk
to apprise the natives throughout the peninsula of our coming, had
carried a letter from the Russian governor giving the names and
occupations of the members of our party, and that mine had been put
down as "Yagor Kennan, Telegraphist and _Operator_." It so happened
that the _starosta_ of Milkova possessed the rare accomplishment of
knowing how to read Russian writing, and the letter had been handed
over to him to be communicated to the inhabitants of the village. He
had puzzled over the unknown word "telegraphist" until his mind was in
a hopeless state of bewilderment, but had not been able to give even
the wildest conjecture as to its probable meaning. "_Operator_,"
however, had a more familiar sound; it was not spelled exactly in the
way to which he had been accustomed, but it was evidently intended
for "Imperator," the Emperor!--and with his heart throbbing with the
excitement of this startling discovery and his hair standing on end
from the arduous nature of his exegetical labours, he rushed furiously
out to spread the news that the Tsar of all the Russias was on a visit
to Kamchatka and would pass through Milkova in the course of three
days! The excitement which this alarming announcement created can
better be imagined than described. The all-absorbing topic of
conversation was, how could Milkova best show its loyalty and
admiration for the Head of the Imperial Family, the Right Arm of the
Holy Orthodox Church, and the Mighty Monarch of seventy millions of
devoted souls? Kamchadal ingenuity gave it up in despair! What could a
poor Kamchatkan village do for the entertainment of its august master?
When the first excitement passed away, the _starosta_ was questioned
closely as to the nature of the letter which had brought this news,
and was finally compelled to admit that it did not say distinctly,
"Alexander Nikolaivitch, _Imperator_," but "Yagor" something
"_Operator,_" which he contended was substantially the same thing,
because if it didn't mean the Emperor himself it meant one of his
most intimate relations, who was entitled to equal honour and must be
treated with equal reverence. The courier had already gone, and had
said nothing about the rank of the travellers whom he heralded, except
that they had arrived at Petropavlovsk in a ship, wore gorgeous
uniforms of blue and gold, and were being entertained by the governor
and the captain of the port. Public opinion finally settled down into
the conviction that "_Op_-erator", etymologically considered, was
first cousin to "_Im_-perator," and that it must mean some dignitary
of high rank connected with the imperial family. With this impression
they had received us when we arrived, and had, poor fellows, done
their very best to show us proper honour and respect. It had been a
severe ordeal to us, but it had proved in the most unmistakable manner
the loyalty of the Kamchadal inhabitants of Milkova to the reigning
family of Russia.

The Major explained to the _starosta_ our real rank and occupation,
but it did not seem to make any difference whatever in the cordial
hospitality of our reception. We were treated to the very best that
the village afforded, and were stared at with a curiosity which showed
that travellers through Milkova had hitherto been few and far between.
After eating bread and reindeer meat and tasting experimentally
various curiously compounded native dishes, we returned in state to
the landing-place, accompanied by another procession, received a
salute of fifteen guns, and resumed our voyage down the river.

[Illustration: War and Hunting Knives.]

[Illustration: Snowbeaters used for beating snow from the clothing.]



CHAPTER XI


ARRIVAL AT KLUCHEI--THE KLUCHEFSKOI VOLCANO--A QUESTION OF ROUTE--A
RUSSIAN "BLACK BATH"

The valley of this river is unquestionably the most fertile part of
the whole Kamchatkan peninsula. Nearly all of the villages that we
passed were surrounded by fields of rye and neatly fenced gardens; the
banks everywhere were either covered with timber or waving with wild
grass five feet in height; and the luxuriant growth in many places of
flowers and weeds testified to the richness of the soil and the
warm humidity of the climate. Primroses, cowslips, marsh violets,
buttercups, wild-roses, cinquefoil, iris, and azure larkspur grow
everywhere throughout the valley in the greatest abundance; and a
peculiar species of umbelliferae, with hollow-jointed stems, attains
in many places a height of six feet, and grows so densely that its
huge serrated leaves hide a man from sight at a distance of a few
yards. All this is the growth of a single summer.

There are twelve native settlements between the head-waters of the
river and the Kluchefskoi volcano, and nearly all are situated in
picturesque locations, and surrounded by gardens and fields of rye.
Nowhere does the traveller see any evidences of the barrenness,
sterility, and frigid desolation which have always been associated
with the name of Kamchatka.

After leaving our hospitable native friends and our imperial dignity
at Milkova, on Monday morning, we floated slowly down the river for
three days, catching distant glimpses of the snowy mountain ranges
which bounded the valley, roaming through the woods in search of bears
and wild cherries, camping at night on the river-bank among the trees,
and living generally a wild, free, delightful life. We passed
the native settlements of Kirgánic (keer-gan'-ic), Márshura
(mar'-shoo-rah), Shchápina (shchap'-in-ah), and Tolbachic, where we
were received with boundless hospitality; and on Wednesday, September
13th, camped in the woods south of Kazerefski (kaz-er-ef'-ski), only
a hundred and twenty versts distant from the village of Kluchei
(kloo-chay'). It rained nearly all day Wednesday, and we camped at
night among the dripping trees, with many apprehensions that the storm
would hide the magnificent scenery of the lower Kamchatka, through
which we were about to pass. It cleared away, however, before
midnight; and I was awakened at an early hour in the morning by a
shouted summons from Dodd to get up and look at the mountains. There
was hardly a breath of air astir, and the atmosphere had that peculiar
crystalline transparency which may sometimes be seen in California. A
heavy hoar-frost lay white on the boats and grass, and a few withered
leaves dropped wavering through the still cool air from the yellow
birch trees which overhung our tent. There was not a sound to break
harshly upon the silence of dawn; and only the tracks of wild reindeer
and prowling wolves, on the smooth sandy beach showed that there was
life in the quiet lonely wilderness around us. The sun had not yet
risen, but the eastern heavens were aglare with yellow light, even up
to the morning-star, which, although "paling its ineffectual fires,"
still maintained its position as a glittering outpost between the
contending powers of night and day. Far away to the north-eastward,
over the yellow forest, in soft purple relief against the red sunrise,
stood the high sharp peaks of Kluchei, grouped around the central
wedge-like cone of the magnificent Kluchefskoi volcano. Nearly a month
before I had seen these noble mountains from the tossing deck of a
little brig, seventy-five miles at sea; but I little thought then
that I should see them again from a lonely camp in the woods of the
Kamchatka River.

For nearly half an hour Dodd and I sat quietly on the beach,
absent-mindedly throwing pebbles into the still water, watching the
illumination of the distant mountains by the rising sun, and
talking over the adventures which we had experienced since leaving
Petropavlovsk. With what different impressions had I come to look at
Siberian life since I first saw the precipitous coast of Kamchatka
looming up out of the blue water of the Pacific!

Then it was an unknown, mysterious land of glaciers and snowy
mountains, filled with possibilities of adventure, but lonely and
forbidding in its uninhabited wildness. Now it was no longer lonely
or desolate. Every mountain peak was associated with some hospitable
village nestled at its feet; every little stream was connected with
the great world of human interests by some pleasant recollection of
camp life. The possibilities of adventure were still there, but the
imaginary loneliness and desolation had vanished with one week's
experience. I thought of the vague conceptions which I had formed in
America of this beautiful country, and tried to compare them with the
more recent impressions by which they had been crowded out, but the
effort was vain. I could not surround myself again with the lost
intellectual atmosphere of civilisation, nor reconcile those earlier
anticipations with this strangely different experience. The absurd
fancies, which had seemed so vivid and so true only three months
before, had now faded away into the half-remembered imagery of a
dream, and nothing was real but the tranquil river which flowed at my
feet, the birch tree which dropped its yellow leaves upon my head, and
the far-away purple mountains.

I was roused from my reverie by the furious beating of a tin
mess-kettle, which was the summons to breakfast. In half an hour
breakfast was despatched, the tent struck, camp equipage packed up,
and we were again under way. We floated all day down the river toward
Kluchei, getting ever-changing views of the mountains as they were
thrown into new and picturesque combinations by our motion to the
northward. We reached Kazerefski at dark, and, changing our crew,
continued our voyage throughout the night. At daybreak on Friday we
passed Kristi (kris-tee'), and at two o'clock in the afternoon arrived
at Kluchei, having been just eleven days out from Petropavlovsk.

The village of Kluchei is situated in an open plain on the right
bank of the Kamchatka River, at the very foot of the magnificent
Kluchefskoi volcano, and has nothing to distinguish it from other
Kamchadal towns, except the boldness and picturesque beauty of its
situation. It lies exactly in the midst of the group of superb
isolated peaks which guard the entrance to the river, and is shadowed
over frequently by the dense, black smoke of two volcanoes. It was
founded early in the eighteenth century by a few Russian peasants who
were taken from their homes in central Russia, and sent with seeds and
farming utensils to start a colony in far-away Kamchatka. After a
long adventurous journey of six thousand miles across Asia by way of
Tobolsk (to-bolsk'), Irkutsk (eer-kootsk'), Yakutsk (yah-kootsk'), and
Kolyma (kol-e-mah'), the little band of involuntary emigrants finally
reached the peninsula, and settled boldly on the Kamchatka River,
under the shadow of the great volcano. Here they and their descendants
have lived for more than a hundred years, until they have almost
forgotten how they came there and by whom they were sent.
Notwithstanding the activity and frequent eruption of the two
volcanoes behind the village, its location never has been changed, and
its inhabitants have come to regard with indifference the occasional
mutterings of warning which come from the depths of the burning
craters, and the showers of ashes which are frequently sifted over
their houses and fields. Never having heard of Herculaneum or Pompeii,
they do not associate any possible danger with the fleecy cloud of
smoke which floats in pleasant weather from the broken summit of
Kluchefskoi, or the low thunderings by which its smaller, but equally
dangerous, neighbour asserts its wakefulness during the long winter
nights. Another century may perhaps elapse without bringing any
serious disaster upon the little village; but after hearing the
Kluchefskoi volcano rumble at a distance of sixty miles, and seeing
the dense volumes of black vapour which it occasionally emitted, I
felt entirely satisfied to give its volcanic majesty a wide berth, and
wondered at the boldness of the Kamchadals in selecting such a site
for their settlement.

The Kluchefskoi is one of the highest as well as one of the most
uninterruptedly active volcanoes in all the great volcanic chain of
the North Pacific. Since the seventeenth century very few years have
elapsed without an eruption of greater or less violence, and even
now, at irregular intervals of a few months, it bursts into flame and
scatters ashes over the whole width of the peninsula and on both seas.
The snow in winter is frequently so covered with ashes for twenty-five
miles around Kluchei that travel upon sledges becomes almost
impossible. Many years ago, according to the accounts of the natives,
there was an eruption of terrible magnificence. It began in the middle
of a clear, dark winter's night, with loud thunderings and tremblings
of the earth, which startled the inhabitants of Kluchei from their
sleep and brought them in affright to their doors. Far up in the dark
winter's sky, 16,000 feet above their heads, blazed a column of lurid
flame from the crater, crowned by a great volume of fire-lighted
vapour. Amid loud rumblings, and dull reverberations from the
interior, the molten lava began to flow in broad fiery rivers down the
snow-covered mountain side, until for half the distance to its base it
was one glowing mass of fire which lighted, up the villages of Kristi,
Kazerefski, and Kluchei like the sun, and illuminated the whole
country within a radius of twenty-five miles. This eruption is said to
have scattered ashes over the peninsula for three hundred versts to a
depth of an inch and a half.

The lava has never yet descended much, if any, below the snow line;
but I see no reason why it may not at some future time overwhelm the
settlement of Kluchei and fill the channel of the Kamchatka River with
a fiery flood.

The volcano, so far as I know, has never been ascended, and its
reported height, 16,500 feet, is probably the approximative estimate
of some Russian officer. It is certainly, however, the highest peak
of the Kamchatkan peninsula, and is more likely to exceed 16,000 feet
than fall below it. We felt a strong temptation to try to scale its
smooth snowy sides and peer over into its smoking crater; but it
would have been folly to make the attempt without two or three weeks'
training, and we had not the time to spare. The mountain is nearly a
perfect cone, and from the village of Kluchei it is so deceitfully
foreshortened that the last 3,000 feet appear to be absolutely
perpendicular. There is another volcano whose name, if it have any,
I could not ascertain, standing a short distance south-east of the
Kluchefskoi, and connected with it by an irregular broken ridge. It
does not approach the latter in height, but it seems to draw its fiery
supplies from the same source, and is constantly puffing out black
vapour, which an east wind drives in great clouds across the white
sides of Kluchefskoi until it is sometimes almost hidden from sight.

We were entertained at Kluchei in the large comfortable house of the
_starosta_, or local magistrate of the village. The walls of our room
were gayly hung with figured calico, the ceiling was covered with
white cotton drill, and the rude pine furniture was scoured with soap
and sand to the last attainable degree of cleanliness. A coarsely
executed picture, which I took to be Moses, hung in a gilt frame in
the corner; but the sensible prophet had apparently shut his eyes to
avoid the smoke of the innumerable candles which had been burned in
his honour, and the expression of his face was somewhat marred in
consequence. Table-cloths of American manufacture were spread on the
tables, pots of flowers stood in the curtained windows, a little
mirror hung against the wall opposite the door, and all the little
fixtures and rude ornaments of the room were disposed with a taste and
a view to general effect which the masculine mind may admire but never
can imitate. American art, too, had lent a grace to this cottage in
the wilderness, for the back of one of the doors was embellished with
pictorial sketches of Virginian life and scenery from the skilful
pencil of Porte Crayon. I thought of the well-known lines of Pope:

  "The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare,
  But wonder how the d---- they came there."

In such comfortable, not to say luxurious, quarters as these, we
succeeded, of course, in passing away pleasantly the remainder of the
day.

At Kluchei we were called upon to decide what route we would adopt in
our journey to the northward. The shortest, and in many respects the
best, was that usually taken by the Russian traders--crossing the
central range of mountains to Tigil (tee-gill'), by the pass of the
Yolofka (yo-loff'-ka), and then following up the west coast of the
peninsula to the head of the Okhotsk Sea. The only objections to this
were the lateness of the season and the probability of finding deep
snow in the mountain passes. Our only alternative was to continue
our journey from Kluchei up the eastern coast to a settlement called
Dranka (dran'-kah), where the mountains sank into insignificant hills,
and cross there to the Kamchadal village of Lesnoi (less-noi') on the
Okhotsk Sea. This route was considerably longer than the one by the
Yolofka pass, but its practicability was much more certain.

After a great many prolonged consultations with sundry natives, who
were supposed to know something about the country, but who carefully
avoided responsibility by telling as little as possible, the Major
concluded to try the Yolofka pass, and ordered canoes to be ready on
Saturday morning to carry us up the Yolofka River.

At the worst, we could only fail to get over the mountains, and there
would be time enough then to return to Kluchei, and try the other
route before the opening of winter.

As soon as we had decided the momentous question of our route, we gave
ourselves up to the unrestrained enjoyment of the few pleasures
which the small and sedate village of Kluchei afforded. There was
no afternoon promenade where we could, as the Russians say, "show
ourselves and see the people"; nor would an exhibition of our tattered
and weather-stained garments on a public promenade have been quite the
proper thing, had it been possible. We must try something else. The
only places of amusement of which we could hear were the village
bath-house and the church; and the Major and I started out, late in
the afternoon, with the intention of "doing" these points of interest
in the most approved style of modern tourists. For obvious reasons we
took the bath-house first. Taking a steam-bath was a very mild sort
of dissipation; and if it were true that "cleanliness was next to
godliness," the bath-house certainly should precede the church. I had
often heard Dodd speak of the "black baths" of the Kamchadals; and
without knowing definitely what he meant, I had a sort of vague
impression that these "black baths" were taken in some inky fluid of
Kamchatkan manufacture, which possessed peculiar detersive properties.
I could think of no other reason than this for calling a bath "black."
Upon entering the "black bath," however, at Kluchei, I saw my mistake,
and acknowledged at once the appropriateness of the adjective. Leaving
our clothes in a little rude entry, which answered the purposes
without affording any of the conveniences of a dressing-room, we
stooped to a low fur-clad door and entered the bath-room proper, which
was certainly dark enough and black enough to justify the gloomiest,
murkiest adjective in the language. A tallow candle, which was burning
feebly on the floor, gave just light enough to distinguish the
outlines of a low, bare apartment, about ten feet square, built
solidly of unhewn logs, without a single opening for the admission of
air or light. Every square inch of the walls and ceiling was perfectly
black with a sooty deposit from the clouds of smoke with which the
room had been filled in the process of heating. A large pile of
stones, with a hollow place underneath for a fire, stood in one end
of the room, and a series of broad steps, which did not seem to lead
anywhere, occupied the other. As soon as the fire had gone out, the
chimney-hole had been closed and hermetically sealed, and the pile
of hot stones was now radiating a fierce dry heat, which made
_res_piration a painful duty, and _per_spiration an unpleasant
necessity. The presiding spirit of this dark, infernal place of
torture soon made his appearance in the shape of a long-haired, naked
Kamchadal, and proceeded to throw water upon the pile of red-hot
stones until they hissed like a locomotive, and the candle burned blue
in the centre of a steamy halo. I thought it was hot before, but
it was a Siberian winter compared with the temperature which this
manoeuvre produced. My very bones seemed melting with fervent heat.
After getting the air of the room as nearly as possible up to 212°,
the native seized me by the arm, spread me out on the lowest of the
flight of steps, poured boiling suds over my face and feet with
reckless impartiality, and proceeded to knead me up, as if he fully
intended to separate me into my original elements. I will not attempt
to describe the number, the variety, and the diabolical ingenuity of
the tortures to which I was subjected during the next twenty minutes.
I was scrubbed, rolled, pounded, drenched with cold water and scalded
with hot, beaten with bundles of birch twigs, rubbed down with wads
of hemp which scraped like brickbats, and finally left to recover my
breath upon the highest and hottest step of the whole stairway. A
douse of cold water finally put an end to the ordeal and to my misery;
and, groping my way out into the entry, I proceeded, with chattering
teeth, to dress. In a moment I was joined by the Major, and we resumed
our walk, feeling like disembodied spirits.

Owing to the lateness of the hour, we were compelled to postpone
indefinitely our visit to the church; but we had been sufficiently
amused for one day, and returned to the house satisfied, if not
delighted, with our experience of Kamchatkan black baths.

The evening was spent in questioning the inhabitants of the village
about the northern part of the peninsula, and the facilities for
travel among the wandering Koraks; and before nine o'clock we went
to bed, in order that we might make an early start on the following
morning.

[Illustration: Wooden Mortar used for grinding Tobacco]



CHAPTER XII


CANOE TRAVEL ON THE YOLOFKA--VOLCANIC CONVERSATION--"O
SUSANNA!"--TALKING "AMERICAN"--A DIFFICULT ASCENT

There was a great variety in the different methods of transportation
which we were compelled to adopt in our journey through Kamchatka; and
to this fact was attributable perhaps, in a great degree, the sense
of novelty and freshness which during our three months' travel in
the peninsula never entirely wore off. We experienced in turn the
pleasures and discomforts of whale-boats, horses, rafts, canoes,
dog-sledges, reindeer-sledges, and snow-shoes; and no sooner did we
begin to tire of the pleasures and ascertain the discomforts of one,
than we were introduced to another.

At Kluchei we abandoned our rafts, and took Kamchadal log canoes,
which could be propelled more easily against the rapid current of
the Yolofka River, which we had now to ascend. The most noticeable
peculiarity of this species of craft, and a remarkable one it is, is a
decided and chronic inclination to turn its bottom side upward and its
upper side bottomward without the slightest apparent provocation.
I was informed by a reliable authority that a boat capsized on the
Kamchatka, just previous to our arrival, through the carelessness of a
Kamchadal in allowing a jack-knife to remain in his right-hand pocket
without putting something of a corresponding weight into the other;
and that the Kamchadal fashion of parting the hair in the middle
originated in attempts to preserve personal equilibrium while
navigating these canoes. I should have been somewhat inclined to doubt
these remarkable and not altogether new stories, were it not for the
reliability and unimpeachable veracity of my informant, Mr. Dodd. The
seriousness of the subject is a sufficient guarantee that he would not
trifle with my feelings by making it the pretext for a joke.

We indulged ourselves on Saturday morning in a much later sleep than
was consistent with our duty, and it was almost eight o'clock before
we went down to the beach.

Upon first sight of the frail canoes, to which our destinies and
the interests of the Russian-American Telegraph Company were to
be intrusted, there was a very general expression of surprise and
dissatisfaction. One of our party, with the rapid _à priori_ reasoning
for which he was distinguished, came at once to the conclusion that a
watery death would be the inevitable termination of a voyage made in
such vessels, and he evinced a very marked disinclination to embark.
It is related of a great warrior, whose _Commentaries_ were the
detestation of my early life, that during a very stormy passage of the
Ionian Sea he cheered up his sailors with the sublimely egotistical
assurance that they carried "Caesar and his fortunes"; and that,
consequently, nothing disastrous could possibly happen to them. The
Kamchatkan Caesar, however, on this occasion seemed to distrust his
own fortunes, and the attempts at consolation came from the opposite
quarter. His boatman did not tell him, "Cheer up, Caesar, a Kamchadal
and his fortunes are carrying you," but he _did_ assure him that he
had navigated the river for several years, and had "never been drowned
_once_." What more could Caesar ask!--After some demur we all took
seats upon bearskins in the bottoms of the canoes, and pushed off.

All other features of natural scenery in the vicinity of Kluchei sink
into subordination to the grand central figure of the Kluchefskoi
volcano, the monarch of Siberian mountains, whose sharp summit, with
its motionless streamer of golden smoke, can be seen anywhere within a
radius of a hundred miles. All other neighbouring beauties of scenery
are merely tributary to this, and are valued only according to their
capability of relieving and setting forth this magnificent peak, whose
colossal dimensions rise in one unbroken sweep of snow from the grassy
valleys of the Kamchatka and Yolofka, which terminate at its base.
"Heir of the sunset and herald of morning," its lofty crater is
suffused with a roseate blush long before the morning mists and
darkness are out of the valleys, and long after the sun has set behind
the purple mountains of Tigil. At all times, under all circumstances,
and in all its ever-varying moods, it is the most beautiful mountain I
have ever seen. Now it lies bathed in the warm sunshine of an Indian
summer's day, with a few fleecy clouds resting at the snow-line and
dappling its sides with purple shadows; then it envelops itself in
dense volumes of black volcanic smoke, and thunders out a hoarse
warning to the villages at its feet; and finally, toward evening, it
gathers a mantle of grey mists around its summit, and rolls them
in convulsed masses down its sides, until it stands in the clear
atmosphere a colossal pillar of cloud, sixteen thousand feet in
height, resting upon fifty square miles of shaggy pine forest.

You think nothing can be more beautiful than the delicate tender
colour, like that of a wild-rose leaf, which tinges its snows as the
sun sinks in a swirl of red vapours in the west; but "visit it by the
pale moonlight," when its hood of mist is edged with silver, when
black shadows gather in its deep ravines and white misty lights gleam
from its snowy pinnacles, when the host of starry constellations seems
to circle around its lofty peak, and the tangled silver chain of the
Pleiades to hang upon one of its rocky spires--then say, if you can,
that it is more beautiful by daylight.

We entered the Yolofka about noon. This river empties into the
Kamchatka from the north, twelve versts above Kluchei. Its shores are
generally low and marshy, and thickly overgrown with rushes and reedy
grass, which furnish cover for thousands of ducks, geese, and wild
swans. We reached, before night, a native village called Harchina
(har'-chin-ah) and sent at once for a celebrated Russian guide by the
name of Nicolai Bragan (nick-o-lai' brag'-on) whom we hoped to induce
to accompany us across the mountains.

From Bragan we learned that there had been a heavy fall of snow on
the mountains during the previous week; but he thought that the warm
weather of the last three or four days had probably melted most of it
away, and that the trail would be at least passable. He was willing
at all events to try to take us across. Relieved of a good deal of
anxiety, we left Harchina early on the morning of the 17th, and
resumed our ascent of the river. On account of the rapidity of the
current in the main stream, we turned aside into one of the many
"protoks" (pro-tokes') or arms into which the river was here divided,
and poled slowly up for four hours. The channel was very winding and
narrow, so that one could touch with a paddle the bank on either
side, and in many places the birches and willows met over the stream,
dropping yellow leaves upon our heads as we passed underneath. Here
and there long scraggy tree-trunks hung over the bank into the water,
logs green with moss thrust their ends up from the depths of the
stream, and more than once we seemed about to come to a stop in the
midst of an impassable swamp. Nicolai Alexandrovich, our guide, whose
canoe preceded ours, sang for our entertainment some of the monotonous
melancholy songs of the Kamchadals, and Dodd and I in turn made
the woods ring with the enlivening strains of "Kingdom Coming" and
"Upidee." When we tired of music we made an amicable adjustment of our
respective legs in the narrow canoe, and lying back upon our bearskins
slept soundly, undisturbed by the splash of the water and the scraping
of poles at our very ears. We camped that night on a high sandy beach
over the water, ten or twelve miles south of Yolofka.

It was a warm still evening, and as we all sat on our bearskins around
the camp-fire, smoking and talking over the day's adventures, our
attention was suddenly attracted by a low rumbling, like distant
thunder, accompanied by occasional explosions. "What's that?" demanded
the Major quickly. "That," said Nicolai soberly, as he emptied his
lungs of smoke, "is the Kluchefskoi volcano talking to the peak of
Suveilich" (soo-veil'-itch). "Nothing private in the conversation, I
suppose," observed Dodd dryly; "he shouts it out loud enough."
The reverberations continued for several minutes, but the peak of
Suveilich made no response. That unfortunate mountain had recklessly
expended its volcanic energies in early life, and was now left without
a voice to answer the thundering shouts of its mighty comrade. There
was a time when volcanoes were as numerous in Kamchatka as knights
around the table of King Arthur, and the peninsula trembled to the
thunder of their shoutings and midnight jollity; but one after
another they had been suffocated with the fiery streams of their own
eloquence, until at last Kluchefskoi was left alone, calling to its
old companions throughout the silent hours of long winter nights, but
hearing no response save the faint far-away echoes of its own mighty
voice.

I was waked early on the following morning by the jubilant music of
"Oh, Su-_san'_-na-a-a, don't ye cry for me!" and crawling out of the
tent I surprised one of our native boatmen in the very act of drumming
on a frying-pan and yelling out joyously:

  "Litenin' struck de telegraf,
  Killed two thousand niggers;
  Shut my eyes to hole my breff,
  Su-_san'_-na-a-a, don't ye cry!"

A comical skin-clad native, in the heart of Kamchatka, playing on a
frying-pan and singing, "Oh, Susanna!" like an arctic negro minstrel,
was too much for my gravity, and I burst into a fit of laughter,
which, soon brought out Dodd. The musician, who had supposed that he
was exercising his vocal organs unheard, stopped suddenly, and looked
sheepishly around, as if conscious that he had been making himself
ridiculous in some way, but did not know exactly how.

"Why, Andrei," said Dodd, "I didn't know you could sing in English."

"I can't, Barin," was the reply; "but I can sing a little in
_American_."

Dodd and I went off in another roar of laughter, which puzzled poor
Andrei more and more.

"Where did you learn?" Dodd asked.

"The sailors of a whaling-ship learned it to me when I was in
Petropavlovsk, two years ago; isn't it a good song?" he said,
evidently fearing that there might be something improper in the
sentiment.

"It's a capital song," Dodd replied reassuringly; "do you know any
more American words?"

"Oh yes, your honour!" (proudly) "I know 'dam yerize,' 'by 'm bye
tomorry,' 'no savey John,' and 'goaty hell,' but I don't know what
they all mean."

It was evident that he didn't! His American education was of limited
extent and doubtful utility; but not even Cardinal Mezzofanti himself
could have been more proud of his forty languages than poor Andrei
was of "dam yerize" and "goaty hell." If ever he reached America, the
blessed land that he saw in his happier dreams, these questionable
phrases would be his passports to the first society.

While we had been talking with Andrei, Viushin had built a fire and
prepared breakfast, and just as the sun peered into the valley we sat
down on bearskins around our little candle-box and ate some "selánka,"
or sour soup, upon which Viushin particularly prided himself, and
drank tumbler after tumbler of steaming tea. _Selánka_, hardtack, and
tea, with an occasional duck roasted before the fire on a sharp stick,
made up our bill of fare while camping out. Only in the settlements
did we enjoy such luxuries as milk, butter, fresh bread, preserved
rose-petals, and fish pies.

Taking our places again in the canoes after breakfast, we poled on
up the river, shooting occasionally at flying ducks and swans, and
picking as we passed long branches full of wild cherries which drooped
low over the water. About noon we left the canoes to go around a
long bend in the river, and started on foot with a native guide for
Yolofka. The grass in the river bottom and on the plains was much
higher than our waists, and walking through it was very fatiguing
exercise; but we succeeded in reaching the village about one o'clock,
long before our canoes came in sight.

Yolofka, a small Kamchadal settlement of half a dozen houses, is
situated among the foot-hills of the great central Kamchatkan range,
immediately below the pass which bears its name, and on the direct
route to Tigil and the west coast. It is the head of canoe navigation
on the Yolofka River, and the starting-point for parties intending to
cross the mountains. Anticipating difficulty in getting horses enough
for our use at this small village, the Major had sent eight or ten
overland from Kluchei, and we found them there awaiting our arrival.

Nearly the whole afternoon was spent in packing the horses and getting
ready for a start, and we camped for the night beside a cold mountain
spring only a few versts away from the Village. The weather, hitherto,
had been clear and warm, but it clouded up during the night, and we
began the ascent of the mountains Tuesday morning the 19th, in a
cold, driving rain-storm from the north-west. The road, if a wretched
foot-path ten inches wide can be said in any metaphorical sense to
_be_ a road, was simply execrable. It followed the track of a swollen
mountain torrent, which had its rise in the melting snows of the
summit, and tumbled in roaring cascades down a narrow, dark,
precipitous ravine. The path ran along the edge of this stream, first
on one side, then on the other, and then in the water, around enormous
masses of volcanic rock, over steep lava slopes, where the water ran
like a mill-race through dense entangling thickets of trailing pine,
into ragged heaps of fallen tree-trunks, and along narrow ledges of
rock where it would be thought that a mountain sheep could hardly
pass. I would guarantee, with twenty men, to hold that ravine against
the combined armies of Europe! Our packhorses rolled down steep banks
into the stream, tore their loads off against tree-trunks, stumbled,
cut their legs in falling over broken volcanic rocks, took flying
leaps across narrow chasms of roaring water, and performed feats which
would have been utterly beyond the strength and endurance of any but
Kamchatkan horses. Finally, in attempting to leap a distance of eight
or ten feet across the torrent, I was thrown violently from the
saddle, and my left foot caught firmly, just above the instep, in the
small iron stirrup. The horse scrambled up the other side and started
at a frightened gallop up the ravine, dragging my body over the ground
by one leg. I remember making a desperate effort to protect my head,
by raising myself upon my elbows, but the horse kicked me suddenly in
the side, and I knew nothing more until I found myself lying upon the
ground with my foot still entangled in the broken stirrup, while the
horse galloped away up the ravine. The giving way of a single strap
had saved my skull from being crushed like an egg-shell against the
jagged rocks. I was badly bruised and very faint and dizzy, but no
bones seemed to be broken, and I got up without assistance. Thus far
the Major had kept his quick temper under strong control; but this was
too much, and he hurled the most furious invectives at poor Nicolai
for leading us over the mountains by such a horrible pass, and
threatened him with the direst punishment when we should reach Tigil.
It was of no use for Nicolai to urge in self-defence that there _was_
no other pass; it was his business to _find_ another, and not imperil
men's lives by leading them into a God-forsaken ravine like this,
choked up with landslides, fallen trees, water, lava, and masses of
volcanic rock! If anything happened to any member of our party in this
cursed gorge, the Major swore he would shoot Nicolai on the spot! Pale
and trembling with fright, the poor guide caught my horse, mended my
stirrup strap, and started on ahead to show that he was not afraid to
go where he asked us to follow.

I believe we must have jumped our horses across that mountain torrent
fifty times in an ascent of 2000 feet, to avoid the rocks and
landslides which appeared first on one side and then on the other.
One of our packhorses had given out entirely, and several others were
nearly disabled, when, late in the afternoon, we finally reached the
summit of the mountains, 4000 feet above the sea. Before us, half
hidden by grey storm-clouds and driving mist, lay a great expanse of
level table-land, covered to a depth of eighteen inches with a soft
dense cushion of arctic moss, and holding water like an enormous
sponge. Not a tree nor a landmark of any kind could be seen--nothing
but moss and flying scud. A cold piercing wind from the north swept
chilly storm-clouds across the desolate mountain top, and drove tiny
particles of half-frozen rain into our faces with blinding, stinging
force. Drenched to the skin by eight or nine hours' exposure to the
storm, tired and weak from long climbing, with boots full of icy
water, and hands numb and stiff from cold, we stopped for a moment
to rest our horses and decide upon our course. Brandy was dealt out
freely to all our men in the cover of a tin pail, but its stimulating
influence was so counteracted by cold that it was hardly perceptible.
The poor _starosta_ of Yolofka, with dripping clothes, blue lips,
chattering teeth, and black hair plastered over his white cheeks,
seemed upon the point of giving out. He caught eagerly at the
pail-cover full of brandy which the Major handed to him, but every
limb was shaking spasmodically, and he spilled most of it in getting
it to his mouth.

Fearing that darkness would overtake us before we could reach shelter,
we started on toward a deserted, half-ruined "yurt" (yoort) [Footnote:
A Mongolian name for a portable or permanent house-like shelter, made
of logs, skins, or felt.] which Nicolai said stood near the western
edge of this elevated plateau, about eight versts distant. Our horses
sank to the knee at every step in the soft, spongy cushion of wet
moss, so that we could travel no faster than a slow walk, and the
short distance of eight versts seemed to be interminable. After four
more dreary hours, spent in wandering about through grey drifting
clouds, exposed to a bitter north-west wind, and a temperature of just
32°, we finally arrived in a half-frozen condition at the _yurt_. It
was a low, empty hut, nearly square in shape, built of variously sized
logs, and banked over with two or three feet of moss and grass-grown
earth, so as to resemble an outdoor cellar. Half of one side had been
torn down by storm-besieged travellers for firewood; its earthen floor
was dank and wet with slimy tricklings from its leaky roof; the wind
and rain drove with a mournful howl down through its chimney-hole;
its door was gone, and it presented altogether a dismal picture of
neglected dilapidation. Nothing daunted, Viushin tore down another
section of the ruined side to make a fire, hung over teakettles, and
brought our provision boxes under such shelter as the miserable hut
afforded. I never could ascertain where Viushin obtained the water
that night for our tea, as there was no available stream within ten
miles, and the drippings of the roof were thick and discoloured with
mud. I have more than a suspicion, however, that he squeezed it out
of bunches of moss which he tore up from the soaking _tundra_
(toon'-drah). Dodd and I took off our boots, poured about a pint of
muddy water out of each, dried our feet, and, as the steam rose in
clouds from our wet clothes, began to feel quite comfortable.

Viushin was in high good humour. He had voluntarily assumed the whole
charge of our drivers during the day, had distinguished himself by
most unwearied efforts in raising fallen horses, getting them over
breakneck places, and cheering up the disconsolate Kamchadals, and
he now wrung the water out of his shirt, and squeezed his wet hair
absent-mindedly into a kettle of soup, with a countenance of such
beaming serenity and a laugh of such hearty good-nature that it was
of no use for anybody to pretend to be cross, tired, cold, or hungry.
With that sunny face irradiating the smoky atmosphere of the ruined
_yurt_, and that laugh ringing joyously in our ears, we made fun of
our misery and persuaded ourselves that we were having a good time.
After a scanty supper of _selánka_, dried fish, hardtack, and tea,
we stretched our tired bodies out in the shallowest puddles we could
find, covered ourselves with blankets, overcoats, oilcloths, and
bearskins, and succeeded, in spite of our wet clothes and wetter beds,
in getting to sleep.

[Illustration: Horn Spoon]

[Illustration: Drinking Vessel made of horn]



CHAPTER XIII.


A DISMAL NIGHT--CROSSING THE KAMCHATKAN DIVIDE--ANOTHER BEAR
HUNT--BREAKNECK RIDING--TIGIL--STEPPES OF NORTHERN KAMCHATKA

I awoke about midnight with cold feet and shivering limbs. The fire on
the wet muddy ground had died away to a few smouldering embers, which
threw a red glow over the black, smoky logs, and sent occasional
gleams of flickering light into the dark recesses of the _yurt_.
The wind howled mournfully around the hut, and the rain beat with
intermittent dashes against the logs and trickled through a hundred
crevices upon my already water-soaked blankets. I raised myself upon
one elbow and looked around. The hut was deserted, and I was alone.
For a moment of half-awakened consciousness I could not imagine
where I was, or how I came in such a strange, gloomy situation; but
presently the recollection of the previous day's ride came back and I
went to the door to see what had become of all our party. I found that
the Major and Dodd, with all the Kamchadals, had pitched tents upon
the spongy moss outside, and were spending the night there, instead of
remaining in the _yurt_ and having their clothes and blankets spoiled
by the muddy droppings of its leaky roof. The tents were questionable
improvements; but I agreed with them in preferring clean water to mud,
and gathering up my bedding I crawled in by the side of Dodd. The wind
blew the tent down once during the night, and left us exposed for a
few moments to the storm; but it was repitched in defiance of the
wind, ballasted with logs torn from the sides of the _yurt_, and we
managed to sleep after a fashion until morning.

We were a melancholy-looking party when we emerged from the tent at
daylight. Dodd looked ruefully at his wet blankets, made a comical
grimace as he felt of his water-soaked clothes, and then declared that

  "The weather was not what he knew it once--
  The nights were terribly damp;
  And he never was free from the rheumatiz
  Except when he had the cramp!"

In which poetical lament we all heartily sympathised if we did not
join.

Our wet, low-spirited horses were saddled at daylight; and as the
storm showed signs of a disposition to break away, we started again,
immediately after breakfast, for the western edge of the high
table-land which here formed the summit of the mountain range. The
scenery from this point in clear weather must be magnificent, as it
overlooks the Tigil Valley and the Okhotsk Sea on one side, and the
Pacific Ocean, the valleys of the Yolofka and the Kamchatka, and the
grand peaks of Suveilich and Kluchefskoi on the other. We caught
occasional glimpses, through openings in the mist, of the Yolofka
River, thousands of feet below, and the smoke-plumed head of the
distant volcano, floating in a great sea of bluish clouds; but a new
detachment of straggling vapours from the Okhotsk Sea came drifting
across the mountain-top, and breaking furiously in our faces, blotted
out everything except the mossy ground, over which plodded our tired,
dispirited horses.

It did not seem possible that human beings could live, or would care
to live, on this desolate plain of moss, 4000 feet above the sea,
enveloped half the time in drifting clouds, and swept by frequent
storms of rain and snow. But even here the Wandering Koraks herd their
hardy reindeer, set up their smoky tent-poles, and bid contemptuous
defiance to the elements. Three or four times during the day we passed
heaps of reindeer's antlers, and piles of ashes surrounded by large
circles of evergreen twigs, which marked the sites of Korak tents; but
the band of wild nomads which had left these traces had long before
disappeared, and was now perhaps herding its deer on the wind-swept
shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Owing to the dense mist in which we were constantly enveloped we could
get no clear ideas as to the formation of the mountain range over
which we were passing, or the extent and nature of this great plain of
moss which lay so high up among extinct volcanic peaks. I only know
that just before noon we left the _tundra_, as this kind of moss
steppe is called, and descended gradually into a region of the
wildest, rockiest character, where all vegetation disappeared except
a few stunted patches of trailing-pine. For at least ten miles the
ground was covered everywhere with loose slab-shaped masses of igneous
rock, varying in size from five cubic feet to five hundred, and lying
one upon another in the greatest disorder. The heavens at some
unknown geological period seemed to have showered down huge volcanic
paving-stones, until the earth was covered fifty feet deep with their
broken fragments. Nearly all of these masses had two smooth flat
sides, and resembled irregular slices of some black Plutonian pudding
hardened into stone. I was not familiar enough with volcanic phenomena
to be able to decide in what manner or by what agency the earth had
been thus overwhelmed with loose rocky slabs; but it looked precisely
as if great sheets of solidified lava had fallen successively from the
sky, and had been shattered, as they struck the earth, into millions
of angular slabs. I thought of Scott's description of the place where
Bruce and the Lord of the Isles landed after leaving the Castle of
Lorn, as the only one I had ever read which gave me an idea of such a
scene.

We drank tea at noon on the west side of this rocky wilderness, and
before night reached a spot where bushes, grass, and berries again
made their appearance. We camped in a storm of wind and rain, and at
daybreak on the 21st continued our descent of the western slope of the
mountains. Early in the forenoon we were inspirited by the sight of
fresh men and horses which had been sent out to meet us from a native
village called Sidanka (see-dahn'-kah), and exchanging our tired,
lame, and disheartened animals for these fresh recruits, we pushed
rapidly on. The weather soon cleared up warm and bright, the trail
wound around among the rolling foot-hills through groves of yellow
birch and scarlet mountain ash, and as the sun gradually dried our
water-soaked clothes, and brought a pleasant glow of returning
circulation to our chilled limbs, we forgot the rain and dreary
desolation of the mountain-top and recovered our usual buoyancy of
spirit.

I have once before, I believe, given the history of a bear hunt in
which our party participated while crossing the Kamchatka _tundra_;
but as that was a mere skirmish, which did not reflect any great
credit upon the individuals concerned, I am tempted to relate one
more bear adventure which befell us among the foot-hills of the Tigil
mountains. It shall be positively the last.

Ye who listen with credulity to the stories of hunters, and pursue
with eagerness the traces of bears; who expect that courage will
rise with the emergency and that the deficiencies of bravery will
be supplied by the tightness of the fix, attend to the history of
Rasselas, an inexperienced bear-slayer. About noon, as we were making
our way along the edge of a narrow grassy valley, bordered by a dense
forest of birch, larch, and pine, one of our drivers suddenly raised
the cry of _medveid_, and pointed eagerly down the valley to a large
black bear rambling carelessly through the long grass in search of
blueberries, and approaching gradually nearer and nearer to our side
of the ravine. He evidently had not yet seen us, and a party to attack
him was soon made up of two Kamchadals, the Major, and myself, all
armed to the teeth with rifles, axes, revolvers, and knives. Creeping
cautiously around through the timber, we succeeded in gaining
unobserved a favourable position at the edge of the woods directly in
front of his Bruinic majesty, and calmly awaited his approach. Intent
upon making a meal of blueberries, and entirely unconscious of his
impending fate, he waddled slowly and awkwardly up to within fifty
yards. The Karnchadals kneeled down, threw forward their long heavy
rifles, fixed their sharp-pronged rests firmly in the ground, crossed
themselves devoutly three times, drew a long breath, took a deadly and
deliberate aim, shut their eyes, and fired. The silence was broken by
a long fizzle, during which the Kamchadals conscientiously kept their
eyes shut, and finally a terrific bang announced the catastrophe,
followed immediately by two more sharp reports from the rifles of the
Major and myself. As the smoke cleared away I looked eagerly to see
the brute kicking around in the agonies of death; but what was my
amazement to find that instead of kicking around in the agonies of
death, as a beast with any sense of propriety _would_ after such a
fusillade, the perverse animal was making directly for us at a gallop!
Here was a variation introduced that was not down in the programme! We
had made no calculations upon a counter-attack, and the ferocity of
his appearance, as he came tearing through the bushes, left no room
for doubt as to the seriousness of his intentions. I tried to think of
some historic precedent which would justify me in climbing a tree; but
my mind was in a state of such agitation that I could not avail myself
of my extensive historical knowledge. "A man may know the seven
portions of the Koran by heart, but when a bear gets after him he will
not be able to remember his alphabet!" What we should have done in the
last extremity will never be known. A shot from the Major's revolver
seemed to alter the bear's original plan of operations, and, swerving
suddenly to one side, he crashed through the bushes ten feet from the
muzzles of our empty rifles, and disappeared in the forest. A careful
examination of the leaves and grass failed to reveal any signs of
blood, and we were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that he
escaped unscathed.

Hunting a bear with a Russian rifle is a very pleasant and entirely
harmless diversion. The animal has plenty of time, after the gun
begins to fizzle, to eat a hearty dinner of blueberries, run fifteen
miles across a range of mountains into a neighbouring province, and
get comfortably asleep in his hole before the deadly explosion takes
place!

It would have been unsafe for any one to suggest "bear steaks" to the
Major or me at any time during the succeeding week.

We camped for the night under the huge spreading branches of a gnarled
birch, a few versts from the scene of our exploit, and early Friday
morning were off for Sidanka. When about fifteen versts from the
village Dodd suggested a gallop, to try the mettle of our horses and
warm our blood. As we were both well mounted, I challenged him to a
steeplechase as far as the settlement. Of all the reckless breakneck
riding that we ever did in Kamchatka, this was the worst. The horses
soon became as excited as their riders, and tore through the bushes
and leaped over ravines, logs, rocks, and swamps with a perfect
frenzy. Once I was dragged from my saddle by the catching of my rifle
against a limb, and several times we both narrowly escaped knocking
our brains out against trees. As we approached the town we saw three
or four Kamchadals cutting wood a short distance ahead. Dodd gave a
terrifying shout like a Sioux war-whoop, put spurs to his horse, and
we came upon them like a thunderbolt. At the sight of two swarthy
strangers in blue hunting-shirts, top-boots, and red caps, with
pistols belted around their waists, and knives dangling at their
girdles, charging down upon them like Mamelukes at the battle of the
Pyramids, the poor Kamchadals flung away their axes and fled for their
lives to the woods. Except when I was dragged off my horse, we never
once drew rein until our animals stood panting and foaming in the
village. If you wish to draw a flash of excitement from Dodd's eyes,
ask him if he remembers the steeplechase to Sidanka.

That night we floated down the Tigil River to Tigil, where we arrived
just at dark, having accomplished in sixteen days a journey of eleven
hundred and thirty versts.

My recollections of Tigil are somewhat vague and indefinite. I
remember that I was impressed with the inordinate quantities of
champagne, cherry cordial, white rum, and "vodka" which its Russian
inhabitants were capable of drinking, and thought that Tigil was a
somewhat less ugly village than the generality of Kamchatkan towns,
but nothing more. Next to Petropavlovsk, however, it is the most
important settlement in the peninsula, and is the trading centre of
the whole western coast. A Russian supply steamer and an American
trading vessel touch at the mouth of the Tigil River every summer,
and leave large quantities of rye flour, tea, sugar, cloth, copper
kettles, tobacco, and strong Russian vodka, for distribution through
the peninsula. The Brágans, Vorrebeoffs (vor-re-be-offs'), and two or
three other trading firms make it headquarters, and it is the winter
rendezvous of many of the northern tribes of Chukchis and Koraks. As
we should pass no other trading post until we reached the settlement
of Gizhiga (gee'-zhee-gah'), at the head of the Okhotsk Sea, we
determined to remain a few days at Tigil to rest and refit.

We were now about to enter upon what we feared would prove the most
difficult part of our journey--both on account of the nature of the
country and the lateness of the season. Only seven more Kamchadal
towns lay between us and the steppes of the Wandering Koraks, and
we had not yet been able to think of any plan of crossing these
inhospitable wastes before the winter's snows should make them
passable on reindeer-sledges. It is difficult for one who has had no
experience of northern life to get from a mere verbal description
a clear idea of a Siberian moss steppe, or to appreciate fully the
nature and extent of the obstacles which it presents to summer travel.
It is by no means easy to cross, even in winter, when it is frozen and
covered with snow; but in summer it becomes practically impassable.
For three or four hundred square miles the eternally frozen ground is
covered to a depth of two feet with a dense luxuriant growth of soft,
spongy arctic moss, saturated with water, and sprinkled here and there
with little hillocks of stunted blueberry bushes and clusters of
labrador tea. It never dries up, never becomes hard enough to afford
stable footing. Prom June to September it is a great, soft, quaking
cushion of wet moss. The foot may sink in it to the knee, but as soon
as the pressure is removed it rises again with spongy elasticity,
and no trace is left of the step. Walking over it is precisely like
walking over an enormous wet sponge. The causes which produce this
extraordinary, and apparently abnormal, growth of moss are those
which exercise the most powerful influence over the development of
vegetation everywhere,--viz., heat, light, and moisture,--and these
agencies, in a northern climate, are so combined and intensified
during the summer months as to stimulate some kinds of vegetation
into almost tropical luxuriance. The earth thaws out in spring to an
average depth of perhaps two feet, and below that point there is a
thick, impenetrable layer of solid frost. The water produced by the
melting of the winter's snows is prevented by this stratum of frozen
ground from sinking any farther into the earth, and has no escape
except by slow evaporation. It therefore saturates the cushion of moss
on the surface, and, aided by the almost perpetual sunlight of June
and July, excites it to a rapid and wonderfully luxuriant growth.

It will readily be seen that travel in summer, over a great steppe
covered with soft elastic moss, and soaking with water, is a very
difficult if not absolutely impracticable undertaking. A horse sinks
to his knees in the spongy surface at every step, and soon becomes
exhausted by the severe exertion which such walking necessitates. We
had had an example of such travel upon the summit of the Yolofka pass,
and it was not strange that we should look forward with considerable
anxiety to crossing the great moss steppes of the Koraks in the
northern part of the peninsula. It would have been wiser, perhaps, for
us to wait patiently at Tigil until the establishment of winter travel
upon dog-sledges; but the Major feared that the chief engineer of the
enterprise might have landed a party of men in the dangerous region
around Bering Strait, and he was anxious to get where he could find
out something about it as soon as possible. He determined, therefore,
to push on at all hazards to the frontier of the Korak steppes, and
then cross them on horses, if possible.

A whale-boat was purchased at Tigil, and forwarded with a native crew
to Lesnoi, so that in case we failed to get over the Korak steppes we
might cross the head of the Okhotsk Sea to Gizhiga by water before the
setting in of winter. Provisions, trading-goods, and fur clothes of
all sorts were purchased and packed away in skin boxes, and every
preparation made which our previous experience could suggest for rough
life and bad weather.

[Illustration: Drill]



CHAPTER XIV


OKHOTSK SEACOAST--LESNOI--THE "DEVIL'S PASS"--LOST IN
SNOW-STORM--SAVED BY BRASS BOX--WILD SCENE

On Wednesday, September 27th, we again took the field, with two
Cossacks, a Korak interpreter, eight or ten men, and fourteen horses.
A little snow fell on the day previous to our departure, but it did
not materially affect the road, and only served as a warning to us
that winter was at hand, and we should not expect much more pleasant
weather. We made our way as rapidly as possible along the coast of the
Okhotsk Sea, partly on the beach under the cliffs, and partly over low
wooded hills and valleys, extending down to the coast from the central
mountain range. We passed the settlements of Amanina (ah-man'-in-ah),
Vaempolka (vah-yem'-pol-kah), Kakhtana (kakh'-tan-ah'), and Polan
(po-lahn'), changing horses and men at every village and finally, on
the 3d of October, reached Lesnoi--the last Kamchadal settlement in
the peninsula. Lesnoi was situated, as nearly as we could ascertain,
in lat. 59° 20', long. 160° 25', about a hundred and fifty versts
south of the Korak steppes, and nearly two hundred miles in an air
line from the settlement of Gizhiga, which for the present was our
objective point.

We had hitherto experienced little difficulty in making our way
through the peninsula, as we had been especially favoured by weather,
and there had been few natural obstacles to stop or delay our
progress. Now, however, we were about to enter a wilderness which was
entirely uninhabited, and little known even to our Kamchadal guides.
North of Lesnoi the great central range of the Kamchatka mountains
broke off abruptly into the Okhotsk Sea, in a long line of tremendous
precipices, and interposed a great rugged wall between us and the
steppes of the Wandering Koraks. This mountain range was very
difficult to pass with horses, even in midsummer, and was of course
infinitely worse now, when the mountain streams were swollen by the
fall rains into foaming torrents, and the storms which herald the
approach of winter might be at any moment expected. The Kamchadals at
Lesnoi declared positively that it was of no use to attempt to cross
this range until the rivers should freeze over and snow enough fall to
permit the use of dog-sledges, and that they were not willing to risk
fifteen or twenty horses, to say nothing of their own lives, in any
such adventure. The Major told them, in language more expressive than
polite, that he didn't believe a word of any such yarn; that the
mountains had to be crossed, and that go they must and should. They
had evidently never had to deal before with any such determined,
self-willed individual as the Major proved to be, and, after some
consultation among themselves, they agreed to make the attempt with
eight unloaded horses, leaving all our baggage and heavy equipage
at Lesnoi. This the Major at first would not listen to; but after
thinking the situation over he decided to divide our small force
into two parties--one to go around the mountains by water with the
whale-boat and heavy baggage, and one over them with twenty unloaded
horses. The road over the mountains was supposed to lie near the
seacoast, so that the land party would be most of the time within
signalling distance of the whale-boat, and in case either party
met with any accident or found its progress stopped by unforeseen
obstacles the other could come to its assistance. Near the middle of
the mountainous tract, just west of the principal ridge, there was
said to be a small river called the Samanka (sa-mahn'-kah), and the
mouth of this river was agreed upon as a rendezvous for the two
parties in case they lost sight of each other during storms or foggy
weather. The Major decided to go with Dodd in the whale-boat, and gave
me command of the land party, consisting of our best Cossack, Viushin,
six Kamchadals, and twenty light horses. Flags were made, a code of
signals was agreed upon, the heavy baggage was transferred to the
whale-boat and a large sealskin canoe, and early on the morning of
October 4th I bade the Major and Dodd good-bye at the beach, and they
pushed off. We started up our train of horses as the boats disappeared
around a projecting bluff, and cantered away briskly across the
valley toward a gap in the mountains, through which we entered the
"wilderness." The road for the first ten or fifteen versts was very
good; but I was surprised to find that, instead of leading us along
the seashore, it went directly back into the mountains away from the
sea, and I began to fear that our arrangements for cooperation would
be of little avail. Thinking that the whale-boat would not probably
get far the first day under oars and without wind, we encamped early
in a narrow valley between two parallel ranges of mountains. I tried,
by climbing a low mountain back of our tent, to get a sight of the
sea; but we were at least fifteen versts from the coast, and the view
was limited by an intervening range of rugged peaks, many of which
reach the altitude of perpetual snow. It was rather lonely to camp
that night without seeing Dodd's cheerful face by the fireside, and
I missed more than I thought I should the lively sallies, comical
stories and good-humoured pleasantry which had hitherto brightened
the long hours of camp life. If Dodd could have read my thoughts that
evening, as I sat in solitary majesty by the fireside, he would have
been satisfied that his society was not unappreciated, nor his absence
unfelt. Viushin took especial pains with the preparation of my supper,
and did the best he could, poor fellow, to enliven the solitary meal
with stories and funny reminiscences of Kamchatkan travel; but the
venison cutlets had lost somehow their usual savour, and the Russian
jokes and stories I could not understand. After supper I lay down upon
my bearskins in the tent, and fell asleep watching the round moon rise
over a ragged volcanic peak east of the valley.

On the second day we travelled through a narrow tortuous valley among
the mountains, over spongy swamps of moss, and across deep narrow
creeks, until we reached a ruined subterranean hut nearly half way
from Lesnoi to the Samanka River. Here we ate a lunch of dried fish
and hardbread, and started again up the valley in a heavy rain-storm,
surrounded on all sides by rocks, snow-capped mountains, and extinct
volcanic peaks. The road momentarily grew worse. The valley narrowed
gradually to a wild rocky cañon, a hundred and fifty feet in depth,
at the bottom of which ran a swollen mountain torrent, foaming around
sharp black rocks, and falling over ledges of lava in magnificent
cascades. Along the black precipitous sides of this "Devil's Pass"
there did not seem to be footing for a chamois; but our guide said
that he had been through it many times before, and dismounting from
his horse he cautiously led the way along a narrow rocky ledge in
the face of the cliff which I had not before noticed. Over this we
carefully made our way, now descending nearly to the water's edge, and
then rising again until the roaring stream was fifty feet below, and
we could drop stones from our outstretched arms directly into the
boiling, foaming waters. Presuming too much upon the sagacity of a
sure-footed horse, I carelessly attempted the passage of the ravine
without dismounting, and came near paying the penalty of my rashness
by a violent death. About half way through, where the trail was only
eight or ten feet above the bed of the torrent, the ledge, or a
portion of it, gave way under my horse's feet, and we went down
together in a struggling mass upon the rocks in the channel of the
stream. I had taken the precaution to disengage my feet from the
treacherous iron stirrups, and as we fell I threw myself toward the
face of the cliff so as to avoid being crushed by my horse. The fall
was not a very long one, and I came down uppermost, but narrowly
escaped having my head broken by my animal's hoofs as he struggled to
regain his feet. He was somewhat cut and bruised, but not seriously
hurt, and tightening the saddle-girth I waded along through the
water, leading him after me until I was able to regain the path. Then
climbing into the saddle again, with dripping clothes and somewhat
shaken nerves, I rode on.

Just before dark we reached a point where further progress in that
direction seemed to be absolutely cut off by a range of high mountains
which ran directly across the valley. It was the central ridge of the
Samanka Mountains. I looked around with a glance of inquiring surprise
at the guide, who pointed directly over the range, and said that
there lay our road. A forest of birch extended about half way up
the mountain side, and was succeeded by low evergreen bushes,
trailing-pine, and finally by bare black rocks rising high over all,
where not even the hardy reindeer-moss could find soil enough to bury
its roots. I no longer wondered at the positive declaration of the
Kamchadals, that with loaded horses it would be impossible to cross,
and began to doubt whether it could be done even with light horses. It
looked very dubious to me, accustomed as I was to rough climbing and
mountain roads. I decided to camp at once where we were, and obtain as
much rest as possible, so that we and our horses would be fresh for
the hard day's work which evidently lay before us. Night closed in
early and gloomily, the rain still falling in torrents, so that we
had no opportunity of drying our wet clothes. I longed for a drink
of brandy to warm my chilled blood, but my pocket flask had been
forgotten in the hurry of our departure from Lesnoi, and I was obliged
to content myself with the milder stimulus of hot tea. My bedding,
having been wrapped up in an oilcloth blanket, was fortunately dry,
and crawling feet first, wet as I was, into my bearskin bag, and
covering up warmly with heavy blankets, I slept in comparative
comfort.

Viushin waked me early in the morning with the announcement that it
was snowing. I rose hastily and putting aside the canvas of the
tent looked out. That which I most dreaded had happened. A driving
snowstorm was sweeping down the valley, and Nature had assumed
suddenly the stern aspect and white pitiless garb of winter. Snow had
already fallen to a depth of three inches in the valley, and on the
mountains, of course, it would be deep, soft, and drifted. I hesitated
for a moment about attempting to cross the rugged range in such
weather; but my orders were imperative to go on at least to the
Samanka River, and a failure to do so might defeat the object of the
whole expedition. Previous experience convinced me that the Major
would not let a storm interfere with the execution of his plans; and
if he should succeed in reaching the Samanka River and I should not, I
never could recover from the mortification of the failure, nor be able
to convince him that Anglo-Saxon blood was as good as Slavonic. I
reluctantly gave the order therefore to break camp, and as soon as the
horses could be collected and saddled we started for the base of the
mountain range. Hardly had we ascended two hundred feet out of the
shelter of the valley before we were met by a hurricane of wind from
the northeast, which swept blinding, suffocating clouds of snow down
the slope into our faces until earth and sky seemed mingled and lost
in a great white whirling mist. The ascent soon became so steep and
rocky that we could no longer ride our horses up it. We therefore
dismounted, and wading laboriously through deep soft drifts, and
climbing painfully over sharp jagged rocks, which cut open our
sealskin boots, we dragged our horses slowly upward. We had ascended
wearily in this way perhaps a thousand feet, when I became so
exhausted that I was compelled to lie down. The snow in many places
was drifted as high as my waist, and my horse refused to take a step
until he was absolutely dragged to it. After a rest of a few moments
we pushed on, and after another hour of hard work we succeeded in
gaining what seemed to be the crest of the mountain, perhaps 2000 feet
above the sea. Here the fury of the wind was almost irresistible.
Dense clouds of driving snow hid everything from sight at a distance
of a few steps, and we seemed to be standing on a fragment of a
wrecked world enveloped in a whirling tempest of stinging snowflakes.
Now and then a black volcanic crag, inaccessible as the peak of the
Matterhorn, would loom out in the white mist far above our heads, as
if suspended in mid-air, giving a startling momentary wildness to the
scene; then it would disappear again in flying snow, and leave us
staring blindly into vacancy. A long fringe of icicles hung round the
visor of my cap, and my clothes, drenched with the heavy rain of the
previous day, froze into a stiff crackling armour of ice upon my body.
Blinded by the snow, with benumbed limbs and chattering teeth, I
mounted my horse and let him go where he would, only entreating the
guide to hurry and get down somewhere off from this exposed position.
He tried in vain to compel his horse to face the storm. Neither shouts
nor blows could force him to turn round, and he was obliged finally
to ride along the crest of the mountain to the eastward. We went down
into a comparatively sheltered valley, up again upon another ridge
higher than the first, around the side of a conical peak where the
wind blew with great force, down into another deep ravine and up still
another ridge, until I lost entirely the direction of our route and
the points of the compass, and had not the slightest idea where we
were going. I only knew that we were half frozen and in a perfect
wilderness of mountains.

I had noticed several times within half an hour that our guide was
holding frequent and anxious consultations with the other Kamchadals
about our road, and that he seemed to be confused and in doubt as to
the direction in which we ought to go. He now came to me with a gloomy
face, and confessed that we were lost. I could not blame the poor
fellow for losing the road in such a storm, but I told him to go on in
what he believed to be the direction of the Samanka River, and if we
succeeded in finding somewhere a sheltered valley we would camp and
wait for better weather. I wished to caution him also against riding
accidentally over the edges of precipices in the blinding snow, but I
could not speak Russian enough to make myself understood.

We wandered on aimlessly for two hours, over ridges, up peaks, and
down into shallow valleys, getting deeper and deeper apparently into
the heart of the mountains but finding no shelter from the storm. It
became evident that something must be done, or we should all freeze
to death. I finally called the guide, told him I would take the lead
myself, and opening my little pocket compass, showed him the direction
of the sea-coast. In that direction I determined to go until we should
come out somewhere. He looked in stupid wonder for a moment at the
little brass box with its trembling needle, and then cried out
despairingly, "Oh, Barin! How does the come-_páss_ know anything about
these accursed mountains? The come-_páss_ never has been over this
road before. I've travelled here all my life, and, God forgive me, I
don't know where the sea is!" Hungry, anxious, and half frozen as I
was, I could not help smiling at our guide's idea of an inexperienced
compass which had never travelled in Kamchatka, and could not
therefore know anything about the road. I assured him confidently that
the "come-_páss_" was a great expert at finding the sea in a storm;
but he shook his head mournfully, as if he had little faith in its
abilities, and refused to go in the direction that I indicated.
Finding it impossible to make my horse face the wind, I dismounted,
and, compass in hand, led him away in the direction of the sea,
followed by Viushin, who, with an enormous bearskin wrapped around his
head, looked like some wild animal. The guide, seeing that we were
determined to trust in the compass, finally concluded to go with us.
Our progress was necessarily very slow, as the snow was deep, our
limbs chilled and stiffened by their icy covering, and a hurricane of
wind blowing in our faces. About the middle of the afternoon, however,
we came suddenly out upon the very brink of a storm-swept precipice a
hundred and fifty feet in depth, against the base of which the sea was
hurling tremendous green breakers with a roar that drowned the rushing
noise of the wind. I had never imagined so wild and lonely a scene.
Behind and around us lay a wilderness of white, desolate peaks,
crowded together under a grey, pitiless sky, with here and there a
patch of trailing-pine, or a black pinnacle of trap-rock, to intensify
by contrast the ghastly whiteness and desolation of the weird snowy
mountains. In front, but far below, was the troubled sea, rolling
mysteriously out of a grey mist of snowflakes, breaking in thick
sheets of clotted froth against the black cliff, and making long
reverberations, and hollow, gurgling noises in the subterranean
caverns which it had hollowed out. Snow, water, and mountains, and in
the foreground a little group of ice-covered men and shaggy horses,
staring at the sea from the summit of a mighty cliff! It was a simple
picture, but it was full of cheerless, mournful suggestions. Our
guide, after looking eagerly up and down the gloomy precipitous coast
in search of some familiar landmark, finally turned to me with a
brighter face, and asked to see the compass. I unscrewed the cover and
showed him the blue quivering needle still pointing to the north. He
examined it curiously, but with evident respect for its mysterious
powers, and at last said that it was truly a "great master," and
wanted to know if it always pointed toward the sea! I tried to explain
to him its nature and use, but I could not make him understand, and
he walked away firmly believing that there was something uncanny and
supernatural about a little brass box that could point out the road to
the sea in a country where it had never before been!

We pushed on to the northward throughout the afternoon, keeping as
near the coast as possible, winding around among the thickly scattered
peaks and crossing no less than nine low ridges of the mountain range.

I noticed throughout the day the peculiar phenomenon of which I had
read in Tyndall's _Glaciers of the Alps_--the blue light which seemed
to fill every footprint and little crevice in the snow. The hole made
by a long slender stick was fairly luminous with what appeared to be
deep blue vapour. I never saw this singular phenomenon so marked at
any other time during nearly three years of northern travel.

About an hour after dark we rode down into a deep lonely valley, which
came out, our guide said, upon the sea beach near the mouth of the
Samanka River. Here no snow had fallen, but it was raining heavily. I
thought it hardly possible that the Major and Dodd could have reached
the appointed rendezvous in such a storm; but I directed the men to
pitch the tent, while Viushin and I rode on to the mouth of the river
to ascertain whether the whale-boat had arrived or not. It was too
dark to see anything distinctly, but we found no evidence that human
beings had ever been there, and returned disappointed to camp. We were
never more glad to get under a tent, eat supper, and crawl into our
bearskin sleeping-bags, than after that exhausting day's work. Our
clothes had been either wet or frozen for nearly forty-eight hours,
and we had been fourteen hours on foot and in the saddle, without warm
food or rest.

[Illustration: Wooden Cup]



CHAPTER XV


CUT OFF BY STORM--STARVATION THREATENED--RACE WITH A RISING TIDE--TWO
DAYS WITHOUT FOOD--RETURN TO LESNOI

Early Saturday morning we moved on to the mouth of the valley, pitched
our tent in a position to command a view of the approaches to the
Samanka River, ballasted its edges with stones to keep the wind from
blowing it down, and prepared to wait two days, according to orders,
for the whale-boat. The storm still continued, and the heavy sea,
which dashed sullenly all day against the black rocks under our tent,
convinced me that nothing could be expected from the other party. I
only hoped that they had succeeded in getting safely landed somewhere
before the storm began. Caught by a gale under the frowning wall of
rock which stretched for miles along the coast, the whale-boat, I
knew, must either swamp with all on board, or be dashed to pieces
against the cliffs. In either case not a soul could escape to tell the
story.

That night Viushin astonished and almost disheartened me with the news
that we were eating the last of our provisions. There was no more
meat, and the hardbread which remained was only a handful of
water-soaked crumbs. He and all the Kamchadals, confidently expecting
to meet the whale-boat at the Samanka River, had taken only three
days' food. He had said nothing about it until the last moment, hoping
that the whale-boat would arrive or something turn up; but it could no
longer be concealed. We were three days' journey from any settlement,
and without food. How we were to get back to Lesnoi I did not know,
as the mountains were probably impassable now, on account of the snow
which had fallen since we crossed, and the weather did not permit us
to indulge a hope that the whale-boat would ever come. Much as we
dreaded it, there was nothing to be done but to attempt another
passage of the mountain range, and that without a moment's delay.
I had been ordered to wait for the whale-boat two days; but
circumstances, I thought, justified a disobedience of orders, and I
directed the Kamchadals to be ready to start for Lesnoi early the next
morning. Then, writing a note to the Major, and enclosing it in a tin
can, to be left on the site of our camp, I crawled into my fur bag to
sleep and get strength for another struggle with the mountains.

The following morning was cold and stormy, and the snow was still
falling in the mountains, and heavy rain in the valley. We broke camp
at daylight, saddled our horses, distributed what little baggage we
had among them, as equally as possible, and made every preparation for
deep snow and hard climbing.

Our guide, after a short consultation with his comrades, now came to
me and proposed that we abandon our plan of crossing the mountains as
wholly impracticable, and try instead to make our way along the narrow
strip of beach which the ebbing tide would leave bare at the foot
of the cliffs. This plan, he contended, was no more dangerous than
attempting to cross the mountains, and was much more certain of
success, as there were only a few points where at low water a horse
could not pass with dry feet. It was not more than thirty miles to
a ravine on the south side of the mountain range, through which we
could, leave the beach and regain our old trail at a point within one
hard day's ride of Lesnoi. The only danger was in being caught by high
water before we could reach this ravine, and even then we might save
ourselves by climbing up on the rocks, and abandoning our horses to
their fate. It would be no worse for them than starving and freezing
to death in the mountains. Divested of its verbal plausibility, his
plan was nothing more nor less than a grand thirty-mile race with a
high tide along a narrow beach, from which all escape was cut off by
precipitous cliffs one and two hundred feet in height. If we reached
the ravine in time, all would be well; but if not, our beach would be
covered ten feet deep with water, and our horses, if not ourselves,
would be swept away like corks. There was a recklessness and dash
about this proposal which made it very attractive when compared with
wading laboriously through snow-drifts, in frozen clothes, without
anything to eat, and I gladly agreed to it, and credited our guide
with more sense and spirit than I had ever before seen exhibited by a
Kamchadal. The tide was now only beginning to ebb, and we had three or
four hours to spare before it would be low enough to start. This
time the Kamchadals improved by catching one of the dogs which had
accompanied us from Lesnoi, killing him in a cold-blooded way with
their long knives, and offering his lean body as a sacrifice to the
Evil Spirit, in whose jurisdiction these infernal mountains were
supposed to be. The poor animal was cut open, his entrails taken out
and thrown to the four corners of the earth, and his body suspended
by the neck from the top of a long pole set perpendicularly in the
ground. The Evil Spirit's wrath, however, seemed implacable, for it
stormed worse after the performance of these propitiatory rites than
it did before. This did not weaken at all the faith of the Kamchadals
in the efficacy of their atonement. If the storm did not abate, it
was only because an unbelieving American with a diabolical brass box
called a "come-_pass'_" had insisted upon crossing the mountains in
defiance of the _genius loci_ and all his tempestuous warnings. One
dead dog was no compensation at all for such a sacrilegious violation
of the Evil Spirit's clearly expressed wishes! The sacrifice, however,
seemed to relieve the natives' anxiety about their own safety; and,
much as I pitied the poor dog thus ruthlessly slaughtered, I was glad
to see the manifest improvement which it worked in the spirits of my
superstitious comrades.

About ten o'clock, as nearly as I could estimate the time without a
watch, our guide examined the beach and said we must be off; we would
have between four and five hours to reach the ravine. We mounted
in hot haste, and set out at a swinging gallop along the beach,
overshadowed by tremendous black cliffs on one side, and sprinkled
with salt spray from the breakers on the other. Great masses of green,
slimy seaweed, shells, water-soaked driftwood, and thousands of
medusas, which had been thrown up by the storm, lay strewn in piles
along the beach; but we dashed through and over them at a mad gallop,
never drawing rein for an instant except to pick our way among
enormous masses of rock, which in some places had caved away from
the summit of the cliff and blocked up the beach with grey
barnacle-encrusted fragments as large as freight-cars.

We had got over the first eighteen miles in splendid style, when
Viushin, who was riding in advance, stopped suddenly, with an
abruptness which nearly threw him over his horse's head, and raised
the familiar cry of "Medveidi! medveidi! dva." Bears they certainly
seemed to be, making their way along the beach a quarter of a mile or
so ahead; but how bears came in that desperate situation, where they
must inevitably be drowned in the course of two or three hours, we
could not conjecture. It made little difference to us, however,
for the bears were there and we must pass. It was a clear case of
breakfast for one party or the other. There could be no dodging or
getting around, for the cliffs and the sea left us a narrow road.
I slipped a fresh cartridge into my rifle and a dozen more into my
pocket; Viushin dropped a couple of balls into his double-barrelled
fowling-piece, and we crept forward behind the rocks to get a shot at
them, if possible, before we should be seen. We were almost within
rifle range when Viushin suddenly straightened up with a loud laugh,
and cried out, "Liudi"--"They are people." Coming out from behind the
rocks, I saw clearly that they were. But how came people there? Two
natives, dressed in fur coats and trousers, approached us with violent
gesticulations, shouting to us in Russian not to shoot, and holding
up something white, like a flag of truce. As soon as they came near
enough one of them handed me a wet, dirty piece of paper, with a
low bow, and I recognised him as a Kamchadal from Lesnoi. They were
messengers from the Major! Thanking God in my heart that the other
party was safe, I tore open the note and read hastily:

Sea Shore, 15 versts from Lesnoi, October 4th. Driven ashore here by
the storm. Hurry back as fast as possible.

S. Abaza.

The Kamchadal messengers had left Lesnoi only one day behind us, but
had been detained by the storm and bad roads, and had only reached on
the previous night our second camp. Finding it impossible to cross the
mountains on account of the snow, they had abandoned their horses,
and were trying to reach the Samanka River on foot by way of the sea
beach. They did not expect to do it in one tide but intended to take
refuge on high rocks during the flood, and resume their journey as
soon as the beach should be left bare by the receding water. There was
no time for any more explanations. The tide was running in rapidly,
and we must make twelve miles in a little over an hour, or lose our
horses. We mounted the tired, wet Kamchadals on two of our spare
animals, and were off again at a gallop. The situation grew more
and more exciting as we approached the ravine. At the end of every
projecting bluff the water was higher and higher, and in several
places it had already touched with foam and spray the foot of the
cliffs. In twenty minutes more the beach would be impassable. Our
horses held out nobly, and the ravine was only a short distance
ahead--only one more projecting bluff intervened. Against this the sea
was already beginning to break, but we galloped past through several
feet of water, and in five minutes drew rein at the mouth of the
ravine. It had been a hard ride, but we had won the race with a clear
ten minutes to spare, and were now on the southern side of the snowy
mountain range, less than sixty miles from Lesnoi. Had it not been
for our guide's good sense and boldness we should still have been
floundering through the snow, and losing our way among the bewildering
peaks, ten miles south of the Samanka River. The ravine up which
our road lay was badly choked with massive rocks, patches of
trailing-pine, and dense thickets of alder, and it cost us two hours'
more hard work to cut a trail through it with axes.

Before dark, however, we had reached the site of our second day's
camp, and about midnight we arrived at the ruined _yurt_ where we had
eaten lunch five days before. Exhausted by fourteen hours' riding
without rest or food, we could go no farther. I had hoped to get
something to eat from the Kamchadal messengers from Lesnoi, but was
disappointed to find that their provisions had been exhausted the
previous day. Viushin scraped a small handful of dirty crumbs out of
our empty bread-bag, fried them in a little blubber, which I suppose
he had brought to grease his gun with, and offered them to me; but,
hungry as I was, I could not eat the dark, greasy mass, and he divided
it by mouthfuls among the Kamchadals.

The second day's ride without food was a severe trial of my strength,
and I began to be tormented by a severe gnawing, burning pain in
my stomach. I tried to quiet it by eating seeds from the cones of
trailing-pine and drinking large quantities of water; but this
afforded no relief, and I became so faint toward evening that I could
hardly sit in my saddle.

About two hours after dark we heard the howling of dogs from Lesnoi,
and twenty minutes later we rode into the settlement, dashed up to the
little log house of the _starosta_, and burst in upon the Major and
Dodd as they sat at supper. Our long ride was over.

Thus ended our unsuccessful expedition to the Samanka Mountains--the
hardest journey I ever experienced in Kamchatka.

Two days afterward, the anxiety and suffering which the Major had
endured in a five days' camp on the sea beach during the storm,
brought on a severe attack of rheumatic fever, and all thoughts of
farther progress were for the present abandoned. Nearly all the horses
in the village were more or less disabled, our Samanka mountain guide
was blind from inflammatory erysipelas brought on by exposure to five
days of storm, and half my party were unfit for duty. Under such
circumstances, another attempt to cross the mountains before winter
was impossible. Dodd and the Cossack Meranef (mer-ah'-nef) were sent
back to Tigil after a physician and a new supply of provisions, while
Viushin and I remained at Lesnoi to take care of the Major.

[Illustration: Stone Lamps]



CHAPTER XVI


KAMCHATKAN NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENTS--CHARACTER OF PEOPLE--SALMON-FISHING--
SABLE-TRAPPING--KAMCHADAL LANGUAGE--NATIVE MUSIC--DOG-DRIVING--WINTER
DRESS

After our unsuccessful attempt to pass the Samanka Mountains, there
was nothing for us to do but wait patiently at Lesnoi until the rivers
should freeze over, and snow fall to a depth which would enable us
to continue our journey to Gizhiga on dog-sledges. It was a long,
wearisome delay, and I felt for the first time, in its full force, the
sensation of exile from home, country, and civilisation. The Major
continued very ill, and would show the anxiety which he had felt about
the success of our expedition by talking deliriously for hours of
crossing the mountains, starting for Gizhiga in the whale-boat, and
giving incoherent orders to Viushin, Dodd, and myself, about horses,
dog-sledges, canoes, and provisions. The idea of getting to Gizhiga,
before the beginning of winter, filled his mind, to the exclusion of
everything else. His sickness made the time previous to Dodd's return
seem very long and lonesome, as I had absolutely nothing to do except
to sit in a little log room, with opaque fish-bladder windows, and
pore over Shakespeare and my Bible, until I almost learned them by
heart. In pleasant weather I would sling my rifle across my back and
spend whole days in roaming over the mountains in pursuit of reindeer
and foxes; but I rarely met with much success. One deer and a few
arctic ptarmigan were my only trophies. At night I would sit on the
transverse section of a log in our little kitchen, light a rude
Kamchadal lamp, made with a fragment of moss and a tin cup full of
seal oil, and listen for hours to the songs and guitar-playing of the
Kamchadals, and to the wild stories of perilous mountain adventure
which they delighted to relate. I learned during these Kamchatkan
Nights' Entertainments many interesting particulars of Kamchadal life,
customs, and peculiarities of which I had before known nothing;
and, as I shall have no occasion hereafter to speak of this curious
little-known people, I may as well give here what account I can of
their language, music, amusements, superstitions, and mode of life.

The people themselves I have already described as a quiet,
inoffensive, hospitable tribe of semi-barbarians, remarkable only
for honesty, general amiability, and comical reverence for legally
constituted authority. Such an idea as rebellion or resistance to
oppression is wholly foreign to the Kamchadal character _now_,
whatever it may have been in previous ages of independence. They will
suffer and endure any amount of abuse and ill-treatment, without any
apparent desire for revenge, and with the greatest good-nature and
elasticity of spirit. They are as faithful and forgiving as a dog. If
you treat them well, your slightest wish will be their law; and they
will do their best in their rude way to show their appreciation of
kindness, by anticipating and meeting even your unexpressed wants.
During our stay at Lesnoi the Major chanced one day to inquire for
some milk. The _starosta_ did not tell him that there was not a cow
in the village, but said that he would try to get some. A man was
instantly despatched on horseback to the neighbouring settlement of
Kinkil, and before night he returned with a champagne-bottle under his
arm, and the Major had milk that evening in his tea. From this time
until we started for Gizhiga--more than a month--a man rode twenty
miles every day to bring us a bottle of fresh milk. This seemed to be
done out of pure kindness of heart, without any desire or expectation
of future reward; and it is a fair example of the manner in which we
were generally treated by all the Kamchadals in the peninsula.

The settled natives of northern Kamchatka have generally two different
residences, in which they live at different seasons of the year. These
are respectively called the "zimovie" or winter settlement, and the
"letovie" (let'-o-vye) or summer fishing-station, and are from one to
five miles apart. In the former, which is generally situated under
the shelter of timbered hills, several miles from the seacoast, they
reside from September until June. The _letovie_ is always built near
the mouth of an adjacent river or stream, and consists of a few
_yurts_ or earth-covered huts, eight or ten conical _balagáns_ mounted
on stilts, and a great number of wooden frames on which fish are hung
to dry. To this fishing-station the inhabitants all remove early in
June, leaving their winter settlement entirely deserted. Even the dogs
and the crows abandon it for the more attractive surroundings and
richer pickings of the summer _balagáns._ Early in July the salmon
enter the river in immense numbers from the sea, and are caught by the
natives in gill-nets, baskets, seines, weirs, traps, and a dozen other
ingenious contrivances--cut open, cleaned, and boned by the women,
with the greatest skill and celerity, and hung in long rows upon
horizontal poles to dry. A fish, with all the confidence of sea life,
enters the river as a sailor comes ashore, intending to have a good
time; but before he fairly knows what he is about, he is caught in
a seine, dumped out upon the beach with a hundred more equally
unsophisticated and equally unfortunate sufferers, split open with
a big knife, his backbone removed, his head cut off, his internal
arrangements scooped out, and his mutilated remains hung over a pole
to simmer in a hot July sun. It is a pity that he cannot enjoy the
melancholy satisfaction of seeing the skill and rapidity with which
his body is prepared for a new and enlarged sphere of usefulness!
He is no longer a fish. In this second stage of passive unconscious
existence he assumes a new name, and is called a "yukala"
(yoo'-kah-lah).

It is astonishing to see in what countless numbers and to what great
distances these fish ascend the Siberian rivers. Dozens of small
streams which we passed in the interior of Kamchatka, seventy miles
from the seacoast, were so choked up with thousands of dying, dead,
and decayed fish, that we could not use the water for any purpose
whatever. Even in little mountain brooks, so narrow that a child could
step across them, we saw salmon eighteen or twenty inches in length
still working their way laboriously up stream, in water which was not
deep enough to cover their bodies. We frequently waded in and threw
them out by the dozen with our bare hands. They change greatly in
appearance as they ascend a river. When they first come in from the
sea their scales are bright and hard, and their flesh fat and richly
coloured; but as they go higher and higher up stream; their scales
lose their brilliancy and fall off, their flesh bleaches out until it
is nearly white, and they become lean, dry, and tasteless. For this
reason all the fishing-stations in Kamchatka are located, if possible,
at or near the mouths of rivers. To the instinct which leads the
salmon to ascend rivers for the purpose of depositing its spawn, is
attributable the settlement of all north-eastern Siberia. If it were
not for the abundance of fish, the whole country would be uninhabited
and uninhabitable, except by the Reindeer Koraks. As soon as the
fishing season is over, the Kamchadals store away their dried _yukala_
in _balagáns_ and return to their winter quarters to prepare for the
fall catch of sables. For nearly a month they spend all their time
in the woods and mountains, making and setting traps. To make a
sable-trap, a narrow perpendicular slot, fourteen inches by four in
length and breadth, and five inches in depth, is cut in the trunk of a
large tree, so that the bottom of the slot will be about at the height
of a sable's head when he stands erect. The stem of another smaller
tree is then trimmed, one of its ends raised to a height of three feet
by a forked stick set in the ground, and the other bevelled off so as
to slip up and down freely in the slot cut for its reception. This
end is raised to the top of the slot and supported there by a simple
figure-four catch, leaving a nearly square opening of about four
inches below for the admission of the sable's head. The figure-four is
then baited and the trap is ready. The sable rises upon his hind
legs, puts his head into the hole, and the heavy log, set free by the
dropping of the figure-four, falls and crushes the animal's skull,
without injuring in the slightest degree the valuable parts of his
skin. One native frequently makes and sets as many as a hundred of
these traps in the fall, and visits them at short intervals throughout
the winter. Not content, however, with this extensive and well
organised system of trapping sables, the natives hunt them upon
snow-shoes with trained dogs, drive them into holes which they
surround with nets, and then, forcing them out with fire or axe, they
kill them with clubs.

The number of sables caught in the Kamchatkan peninsula annually
varies from six to nine thousand, all of which are exported to Russia
and distributed from there over northern Europe. A large proportion of
the whole number of Russian sables in the European market are caught
by the natives of Kamchatka and transported by _American_ merchants
to Moscow. W.H. Bordman, of Boston, and an American house in
China--known, I believe, as Russell & Co.--practically control the fur
trade of Kamchatka and the Okhotsk seacoast. The price paid to the
Kamchadals for an average sable skin in 1867 was nominally fifteen
rubles silver, or about eleven dollars gold; but payment was made in
tea, sugar, tobacco, and sundry other articles of merchandise, at the
trader's own valuation, so that the natives actually realised only a
little more than half the nominal price. Nearly all the inhabitants of
central Kamchatka are engaged directly or indirectly during the winter
in the sable trade and many of them have acquired by it a comfortable
independence.

Fishing and sable-hunting, therefore, are the serious occupations of
the Kamchadals throughout the year; but as these are indications of
the nature of the country rather than of the characteristics of its
inhabitants, they give only an imperfect idea of the distinctive
peculiarities of Kamchadals and Kamchadal life. The language, music,
amusements, and superstitions of a people are much more valuable
as illustrations of their real character than are their regular
occupations.

The Kamchadal language is to me one of the most curious of all the
wild tongues of Asia; not on account of its construction, but simply
from the strange, uncouth sounds with which it abounds, and its
strangling, gurgling articulation. When rapidly spoken, it always
reminded me of water running out of a narrow-mouthed jug! A Russian
traveller in Kamchatka has said that "the Kamchadal language is spoken
half in the mouth and half in the throat"; but it might be more
accurately described as spoken half in the throat and half in the
stomach. It has more guttural sounds than any other Asiatic language
that I have ever heard, and differs considerably in this respect
from the dialects of the Chukchis and Koraks. It is what comparative
philologists call an agglutinative language, and seems to be made up
of permanent unchangeable roots with variable prefixes. It has, so far
as I could ascertain, no terminal inflections, and its grammar seemed
to be simple and easily learned. Most of the Kamchadals throughout
the northern part of the peninsula speak, in addition to their own
language, Russian and Korak, so that, in their way, they are quite
accomplished linguists.

It has always seemed to me that the songs of a people, and especially
of a people who have composed them themselves, and not adopted them
from others, are indicative to a very great degree of their character;
whether, as some author supposed, the songs have a reflex influence
on the character, or whether they exist simply as its exponents, the
result is the same, viz., a greater or less correspondence between the
two. In none of the Siberian tribes is this more marked than in the
Kamchadals. They have evidently never been a warlike, combative
people. They have no songs celebrating the heroic deeds of their
ancestors, or their exploits in the chase or in battle, as have many
tribes of our North American Indians. Their ballads are all of a
melancholy, imaginative character, inspired apparently by grief, love,
or domestic feeling, rather than by the ruder passions of pride,
anger, and revenge. Their music all has a wild, strange sound to a
foreign ear, but it conveys to the mind in some way a sense of sorrow,
and vague, unavailing regret for something that has for ever passed
away, like the emotion excited by a funeral dirge over the grave of a
dear friend. As Ossian says of the music of Carryl, "it is like the
memory of joys that are past--sweet, yet mournful to the soul." I
remember particularly a song called the Penzhinski, sung one night by
the natives at Lesnoi, which was, without exception, the sweetest, and
yet the most inexpressibly mournful combination of notes that I had
ever heard. It was a wail of a lost soul, despairing, yet pleading for
mercy. I tried in vain to get a translation of the words. Whether it
was the relation of some bloody and disastrous encounter with their
fiercer northern neighbours, or the lament over the slain body of some
dear son, brother, or husband, I could not learn; but the music alone
will bring the tears near one's eyes, and has an indescribable effect
upon the singers, whose excitable feelings it sometimes works up
almost to the pitch of frenzy. The dancing tunes of the Kamchadals
are of course entirely different in character, being generally very
lively, and made up of energetic staccato passages, repeated many
times in succession, without variation. Nearly all the natives
accompany themselves upon a three-cornered guitar with two strings,
called a _ballalaika_ (bahl-lah-lai'-kah), and some of them play quite
well upon rude home-made violins. All are passionately fond of music
of every kind.

The only other amusements in which they indulge are dancing, playing
football on the snow in winter, and racing with dog-teams.

The winter travel of the Kamchadals is accomplished entirely upon
dog-sledges, and in no other pursuit of their lives do they spend more
time or exhibit their native skill and ingenuity to better advantage.
They may even be said to have made dogs for themselves in the first
place, since the present Siberian animal is nothing more than a
half-domesticated arctic wolf, and still retains all his wolfish
instincts and peculiarities. There is probably no more hardy, enduring
animal in the world. You may compel him to sleep out on the snow in a
temperature of 70° below zero, drive him with heavy loads until his
feet crack open and stain the snow with blood, or starve him until
he eats up his harness; but his strength and his spirit seem alike
unconquerable. I have driven a team of nine dogs more than a hundred
miles in a day and a night, and have frequently worked them hard for
forty-eight hours without being able to give them a particle of food.
In general they are fed once a day, their allowance being a single
dried fish, weighing perhaps a pound and a half or two pounds. This
is given to them at night, so that they begin another day's work with
empty stomachs.

The sledge, or _nart_, to which they are harnessed is about ten
feet in length and two in width, made of seasoned birch timber, and
combines to a surprising degree the two most desirable qualities of
strength and lightness. It is simply a skeleton framework, fastened
together with lashings of dried sealskin, and mounted on broad, curved
runners. No iron whatever is used in its construction, and it does not
weigh more than twenty pounds; yet it will sustain a load of four or
five hundred pounds, and endure the severest shocks of rough mountain
travel. The number of dogs harnessed to this sledge varies from seven
to fifteen, according to the nature of the country to be traversed and
the weight of the load. Under favourable circumstances eleven dogs
will make from forty to fifty miles a day with a man and a load of
four hundred pounds. They are harnessed to the sledge in successive
couples by a long central thong of sealskin, to which each individual
dog is attached by a collar and a short trace. They are guided and
controlled entirely by the voice and by a lead-dog who is especially
trained for the purpose. The driver carries no whip, but has instead a
stick about four feet in length and two inches in diameter, called
an _oerstel_ (oar'-stel). This is armed at one end with a long iron
spike, and is used to check the speed of the sledge in descending
hills, and to stop the dogs when they leave the road, as they
frequently do in pursuit of reindeer and foxes. The spiked end is then
thrust down in front of one of the knees or uprights of the runners,
and drags in that position through the snow, the upper end being
firmly held by the driver. It is a powerful lever, and when skilfully
used brakes up a sledge very promptly and effectively.

[Illustration: TOWARD NIGHT; A TIRED DOG-TEAM
From a painting by George A. Frost]

The art of driving a dog-team is one of the most deceptive in the
world. The traveller at first sight imagines that driving a dog-sledge
is just as easy as driving a street-car, and at the very first
favourable opportunity he tries it. After being run away with within
the first ten minutes, capsized into a snow-drift, and his sledge
dragged bottom upward a quarter of a mile from the road, the rash
experimenter begins to suspect that the task is not quite so easy as
he had supposed, and in less than one day he is generally convinced by
hard experience that a dog-driver, like a poet, is born, not made.

The dress of the Kamchadals in winter and summer is made for the most
part of skins. Their winter costume consists of sealskin boots or
_torbasses_ worn over heavy reindeerskin stockings and coming to the
knee; fur trousers with the hair inside; a foxskin hood with a face
border of wolverine skin; and a heavy _kukhlánka_ (kookh-lan'-kah), or
double fur overshirt, covering the body to the knees. This is made of
the thickest and softest reindeerskin, ornamented around the bottom
with silk embroidery, trimmed at the sleeves and neck with glossy
beaver, and furnished with a square flap under the chin, to be held up
over the nose, and a hood behind the neck, to be drawn over the head
in bad weather. In such a costume as this the Kamchadals defy for
weeks at a time the severest cold, and sleep out on the snow safely
and comfortably in temperatures of twenty, thirty, and even forty
degrees below zero, Fahr.

Most of our time during our long detention at Lesnoi was occupied in
the preparation of such costumes for our own use, in making covered
dog-sledges to protect ourselves from winter storms, sewing bearskins
into capacious sleeping-bags, and getting ready generally for a hard
winter's campaign.

[Illustration: Root Digger]



CHAPTER XVII


A FRESH START--CROSSING THE SAMANKA MOUNTAINS--DESCENT ON A KORAK
ENCAMPMENT--NOMADS AND THEIR TENTS--DOOR-HOLES AND DOGS--POLOGS--KORAK
BREAD

About the 20th of October a Russian physician arrived from Tigil,
and proceeded to reduce the little strength that the Major had by
steaming, bleeding, and blistering him into a mere shadow of his
former robust self. The fever, however, abated under this energetic
treatment, and he began gradually to amend. Sometime during the same
week, Dodd and Meranef returned from Tigil with a new supply of tea,
sugar, rum, tobacco, and hardbread, and we began collecting dogs from
the neighbouring settlements of Kinkil and Polan for another trip
across the Samanka Mountains. Snow had fallen everywhere to a depth of
two feet, the weather had turned clear and cold, and there was nothing
except the Major's illness to detain us longer at Lesnoi. On the 28th
he declared himself able to travel, and we packed up for a start. On
November 1st we put on our heavy fur clothes, which turned us into
wild animals of most ferocious appearance, bade good-by to all the
hospitable people of Lesnoi, and set out with a train of sixteen
sledges, eighteen men, two hundred dogs, and forty days' provisions,
for the territory of the Wandering Koraks. We determined to reach
Gizhiga this time, or, as the newspapers say, perish in the attempt.

Late in the afternoon of November 3d, just as the long northern
twilight was fading into the peculiar steely blue of an arctic night,
our dogs toiled slowly up the last summit of the Samanka Mountains,
and we looked down from a height of more than two thousand feet upon
the dreary expanse of snow which stretched away to the far horizon. It
was the land of the Wandering Koraks. A cold breeze from the sea swept
across the mountain-top, soughing mournfully through the pines as
it passed, and intensifying the loneliness and silence of the white
wintry landscape. The faint pale light of the vanishing sun still
lingered upon the higher peaks; but the gloomy ravines below us,
shaggy with forests of larch and dense thickets of trailing-pine, were
already gathering the shadows and indistinctness of night. At the foot
of the mountains stood the first encampment of Koraks. As we rested
our dogs a few moments upon the summit, before commencing our descent,
we tried to discern through the gathering gloom the black tents which
we imagined stood somewhere beneath our feet; but nothing save the
dark patches of trailing-pine broke the dead white of the level
steppe. The encampment was hidden by a projecting shoulder of the
mountain.

[Illustration: WANDERING KORAKS WITH THEIR REINDEER AND SLEDGES
From a painting by George A. Frost]

The rising moon was just throwing into dark, bold relief the shaggy
outlines of the peaks on our right, as we roused up our dogs and
plunged into the throat of a dark ravine which led downward to the
steppe. The deceptive shadows of night, and the masses of rock which
choked up the narrow defile made the descent extremely dangerous; and
it required all the skill of our practised drivers to avoid accident.
Clouds of snow flew from the spiked poles with which they vainly tried
to arrest our downward rush; cries and warning shouts from those in
advance, multiplied by the mountain echoes, excited our dogs to still
greater speed, until we seemed, as the rocks and trees flew past, to
be in the jaws of a falling avalanche, which was carrying us with
breathless rapidity down the dark canon to certain ruin. Gradually,
however, our speed slackened, and we came out into the moonlight on
the hard, wind-packed snow of the open steppe. Half an hour's brisk
travel brought us into the supposed vicinity of the Korak encampment,
but we saw as yet no signs of either reindeer or tents. The disturbed,
torn-up condition of the snow usually apprises the traveller of his
approach to the _yurts_ of the Koraks, as the reindeer belonging to
the band range all over the country within a radius of several miles,
and paw up the snow in search of the moss which constitutes their
food. Failing to find any such indications, we were discussing the
probability of our having been misdirected, when suddenly our leading
dogs pricked up their sharp ears, snuffed eagerly at the wind, and
with short, excited yelps made off at a dashing gallop toward a low
hill which lay almost at right angles with our previous course. The
drivers endeavoured in vain to check the speed of the excited dogs;
their wolfish instincts were aroused, and all discipline was forgotten
as the fresh scent came down upon the wind from the herd of reindeer
beyond. A moment brought us to the brow of the hill, and before us in
the clear moonlight, stood the conical tents of the Koraks, surrounded
by at least four thousand reindeer, whose branching antlers looked
like a perfect forest of dry limbs. The dogs all gave voice
simultaneously, like a pack of foxhounds in view of the game, and
dashed tumultuously down the hill, regardless of the shouts of their
masters, and the menacing cries of three or four dark forms which rose
suddenly up from the snow between them and the frightened deer. Above
the tumult I could hear Dodd's voice, hurling imprecations in Russian
at his yelping dogs, which, in spite of his most strenuous efforts,
were dragging him and his capsized sledge across the steppe. The vast
body of deer wavered a moment and then broke into a wild stampede,
with drivers, Korak sentinels, and two hundred dogs in full pursuit.

Not desirous of becoming involved in the mêlée, I sprang from my
sledge and watched the confused crowd as it swept with shout, bark,
and halloo, across the plain. The whole encampment, which had seemed
in its quiet loneliness to be deserted, was now startled into instant
activity. Dark forms issued suddenly from the tents, and grasping the
long spears which stood upright in the snow by the doorway, joined in
the chase, shouting and hurling lassos of walrus hide at the dogs,
with the hope of stopping their pursuit. The clattering of thousands
of antlers dashed together in the confusion of flight, the hurried
beat of countless hoofs upon the hard snow, the deep, hoarse barks of
the startled deer, and the unintelligible cries of the Koraks, as they
tried to rally their panic-stricken herd, created a Pandemonium of
discordant sounds which could be heard far and wide through the
still, frosty atmosphere of night. It resembled a midnight attack of
Comanches upon a hostile camp, rather than the peaceful arrival of
three or four American travellers; and I listened with astonishment to
the wild uproar of alarm which we had unintentionally aroused.

The tumult grew fainter and fainter as it swept away into the
distance, and the dogs, exhausting the unnatural strength which the
excitement had temporarily given them, yielded reluctantly to the
control of their drivers and turned toward the tents. Dodd's dogs,
panting with the violence of their exertions, limped sullenly back,
casting longing glances occasionally in the direction of the deer, as
if they more than half repented the weakness which had led them to
abandon the chase.

"Why didn't you stop them?" I inquired of Dodd, laughingly. "A driver
of your experience ought to have better control of his team than
that."

"Stop them!" he exclaimed with an aggrieved air. "I'd like to see
_you_ stop them, with a rawhide lasso round your neck, and a big Korak
hauling like a steam windlass on the other end of it! It's all very
well to cry 'stop 'em'; but when the barbarians haul you off the rear
end of your sledge as if you were a wild animal, what course would
your sublime wisdom suggest? I believe I've got the mark of a lasso
round my neck now," and he felt cautiously about his ears for the
impression of a sealskin thong.

As soon as the deer had been gathered together again and a guard
placed over them, the Koraks crowded curiously around the visitors who
had entered so unceremoniously their quiet camp, and inquired through
Meranef, our interpreter, who we were and what we wanted. A wild,
picturesque group they made, as the moonlight streamed white and clear
into their swarthy faces, and glittered upon the metallic ornaments
about their persons and the polished blades of their long spears.
Their high cheek-bones, bold, alert eyes, and straight, coal-black
hair, suggested an intimate relationship with our own Indians; but the
resemblance went no further. Most of their faces wore an expression
of bold, frank honesty, which is not a characteristic of our western
aborigines, and which we instinctively accepted as a sufficient
guarantee of their friendliness and good faith. Contrary to our
preconceived idea of northern savages, they were athletic, able-bodied
men, fully up to the average height of Americans. Heavy _kukh-lánkas_
(kookh-lan'-kas), or hunting-shirts of spotted deerskin, confined
about the waist with a belt, and fringed round the bottom with the
long black hair of the wolverine, covered their bodies from the neck
to the knee, ornamented here and there with strings of small coloured
beads, tassels of scarlet leather, and bits of polished metal. Fur
trousers, long boots of sealskin coming up to the thigh, and wolfskin
hoods, with the ears of the animal standing erect on each side of
the head, completed the costume which, notwithstanding its _bizarre_
effect, had yet a certain picturesque adaptation to the equally
strange features of the moonlight scene. Leaving our Cossack Meranef,
seconded by the Major, to explain our business and wants, Dodd and
I strolled away to make a critical inspection of the encampment. It
consisted of four large conical tents, built apparently of a framework
of poles and covered with loose reindeerskins, confined in their
places by long thongs of seal or walrus hide, which were stretched
tightly over them from the apex of the cone to the ground. They seemed
at first sight to be illy calculated to withstand the storms which
in winter sweep down across this steppe from the Arctic Ocean; but
subsequent experience proved that the severest gales cannot tear them
from their fastenings. Neatly constructed sledges of various shapes
and sizes were scattered here and there upon the snow, and two or
three hundred pack-saddles for the reindeer were piled up in a
symmetrical wall near the largest tent. Finishing our examination, and
feeling somewhat bored by the society of fifteen or twenty Koraks who
had constituted themselves a sort of supervisory committee to watch
our motions, we returned to the spot where the representatives of
civilisation and barbarism were conducting their negotiations. They
had apparently come to an amicable understanding; for, upon our
approach, a tall native with shaven head stepped out from the throng,
and leading the way to the largest tent, lifted a curtain of skin and
revealed a dark hole about two feet and a half in diameter, which he
motioned to us to enter.

Now, if there was any branch of Viushin's Siberian education upon
which he especially prided himself, it was his proficiency in crawling
into small holes. Persevering practice had given him a flexibility of
back and a peculiar sinuosity of movement which we might admire but
could not imitate; and although the distinction was not perhaps an
altogether desirable one, he was invariably selected to explore all
the dark holes and underground passages (miscalled doors) which came
in our way. This seemed to be one of the most peculiar of the many
different styles of entrance which we had observed; but Viushin,
assuming as an axiom that no part of his body could be greater than
the (w)hole, dropped into a horizontal position, and requesting Dodd
to give his feet an initial shove, crawled cautiously in. A few
seconds of breathless silence succeeded his disappearance, when,
supposing that all must be right, I put my head into the hole and
crawled warily after him. The darkness was profound; but, guided by
Viushin's breathing, I was making very fair progress, when suddenly
a savage snarl and a startling yell came out of the gloom in front,
followed instantly by the most substantial part of Viushin's body,
which struck me with the force of a battering-ram on the top of the
head, and caused me, with the liveliest apprehensions of ambuscade
and massacre, to back precipitately out. Viushin, with the awkward
retrograde movements of a disabled crab, speedily followed.

"What in the name of Chort [Footnote: The Devil.] is the matter?"
demanded Dodd in Russian, as he extricated Viushin's head from the
folds of the skin curtain in which it had become enveloped. "You back
out as if Shaitan and all his imps were after you!"--"You don't
suppose," responded Viushin, with excited gestures, "that I'm going to
stay in that hole and be eaten up by Korak dogs? If I was foolish enough
to go in, I've got discretion enough to know when to come out. I don't
believe the hole leads anywhere, anyhow," he added apologetically; "and
it's all full of dogs." With a quick perception of Viushin's difficulties
and a grin of amusement at his discomfiture, our Korak guide entered the
hole, drove out the dogs, and lifting up an inner curtain, allowed the
red light of the fire to stream through. Crawling on hands and knees a
distance of twelve or fifteen feet through the low doorway, we entered
the large open circle in the interior of the tent. A crackling fire of
resinous pine boughs burned brightly upon the ground in the centre,
illuminating redly the framework of black, glossy poles, and
flickering fitfully over the dingy skins of the roof and the swarthy
tattooed faces of the women who squatted around. A large copper
kettle, filled with some mixture of questionable odour and appearance,
hung over the blaze, and furnished occupation to a couple of skinny,
bare-armed women, who with the same sticks were alternately stirring
its contents, poking up the fire, and knocking over the head two or
three ill-conditioned but inquisitive dogs. The smoke, which rose
lazily from the fire, hung in a blue, clearly defined cloud about five
feet from the ground, dividing the atmosphere of the tent into a lower
stratum of comparatively clear air, and an upper cloud region where
smoke, vapours, and ill odours contended for supremacy.

The location of the little pure air which the _yurt_ afforded made
the boyish feat of standing upon one's head a very desirable
accomplishment; and as the pungent smoke filled my eyes to the
exclusion of everything else except tears, I suggested to Dodd that he
reverse the respective positions of his head and feet, and try it--he
would escape the smoke and sparks from the fire, and at the same time
obtain a new and curious optical effect. With the sneer of contempt
which always met even my most valuable suggestions, he replied that I
might try my own experiments, and throwing himself down at full length
on the ground, he engaged in the interesting diversion of making faces
at a Korak baby. Viushin's time, as soon as his eyes recovered a
little from the effects of the smoke, was about equally divided
between preparations for our evening meal, and revengeful blows at the
stray dogs which ventured in his vicinity; while the Major, who was
probably the most usefully employed member of the party, negotiated
for the exclusive possession of a _polog_. The temperature of a Korak
tent in winter seldom ranges above 20° or 25° Fahr., and as constant
exposure to such a degree of cold would be at least very disagreeable,
the Koraks construct around the inner circumference of the tent small,
nearly air-tight apartments called _pologs_, which are separated
one from another by skin curtains, and combine the advantages of
exclusiveness with the desirable luxury of greater warmth. These
_pologs_ are about four feet in height, and six or eight feet in width
and length. They are made of the heaviest furs sewn carefully together
to exclude the air, and are warmed and lighted by a burning
fragment of moss floating in a wooden bowl of seal oil. The law of
compensation, however, which pervades all Nature, makes itself felt
even in the _pologs_ of a Korak _yurt_, and for the greater degree of
warmth is exacted the penalty of a closer, smokier atmosphere. The
flaming wick of the lamp, which floats like a tiny burning ship in a
miniature lake of rancid grease, absorbs the vital air of the _polog_,
and returns it in the shape of carbonic acid gas, oily smoke, and
sickening odours. In defiance, however, of all the known laws of
hygiene, this vitiated atmosphere seems to be healthful; or, to
state the case negatively, there is no evidence to prove its
unhealthfulness. The Korak women, who spend almost the whole of their
time in these _pologs_, live generally to an advanced age, and except
a noticeable tendency to angular outlines, and skinniness, there is
nothing to distinguish them physically from the old women of other
countries. It was not without what I supposed to be a well-founded
apprehension of suffocation, that I slept for the first time in a
Korak _yurt_; but my uneasiness proved to be entirely groundless, and
gradually wore away.

[Illustration: A MAN OF THE WANDERING KORAKS]

With a view to escape from the crowd of Koraks, who squatted around
us on the earthen floor, and whose watchful curiosity soon became
irksome, Dodd and I lifted up the fur curtain of the _polog_ which the
Major's diplomacy had secured, and crawled in to await the advent of
supper. The inquisitive Koraks, unable to find room in the narrow
_polog_ for the whole of their bodies, lay down to the number of nine
on the outside, and poking their ugly, half-shaven heads under the
curtain, resumed their silent supervision. The appearance in a row of
nine disembodied heads, whose staring eyes rolled with synchronous
motion from side to side as we moved, was so ludicrous that we
involuntarily burst into laughter. A responsive smile instantly
appeared upon each of the nine swarthy faces, whose simultaneous
concurrence in the expression of every emotion suggested the idea of
some huge monster with nine heads and but one consciousness. Acting
upon Dodd's suggestion that we try and smoke them out, I took my
brier-wood pipe from my pocket and proceeded to light it with one of
those peculiar snapping lucifers which were among our most cherished
relics of civilisation. As the match, with a miniature fusillade of
sharp reports, burst suddenly into flame, the nine startled heads
instantly disappeared, and from beyond the curtain we could hear a
chorus of long-drawn "tye-e-e's" from the astonished natives, followed
by a perfect Babel of animated comments upon this diabolical method
of producing fire. Fearful, however, of losing some other equally
striking manifestation of the white men's supernatural power, the
heads soon returned, reenforced by several others which the report of
the wonderful occurrence had attracted. The fabled watchfulness of the
hundred-eyed Argus was nothing compared with the scrutiny to which we
were now subjected. Every wreath of curling smoke which rose from our
lips was watched by the staring eyes as intently as if it were some
deadly vapour from the bottomless pit, which would shortly burst into
report and flame. A loud and vigorous sneeze from Dodd was the signal
for a second panic-stricken withdrawal of the row of heads, and
another comparison of respective experiences outside the curtain. It
was laughable enough; but, tired of being stared at and anxious for
something to eat, we crawled out of our _polog_ and watched with
unassumed interest the preparation of supper.

Out of a little pine box which contained our telegraphic instruments,
Viushin had improvised a rude, legless mess-table, which he was
engaged in covering with cakes of hardbread, slices of raw bacon, and
tumblers of steaming tea. These were the luxuries of civilisation, and
beside them on the ground, in a long wooden trough and a huge bowl of
the same material, were the corresponding delicacies of barbarism. As
to their nature and composition we could, of course, give only a
wild conjecture; but the appetites of weary travellers are not very
discriminating, and we seated ourselves, like cross-legged Turks, on
the ground, between the trough and the instrument-box, determined to
prove our appreciation of Korak hospitality by eating everything which
offered itself. The bowl with its strange-looking contents arrested,
of course, the attention of the observant Dodd, and, poking it
inquiringly with a long-handled spoon, he turned to Viushin, who, as
_chef-de-cuisine_, was supposed to know all about it, and demanded:

"What's this you've got?"

"That?" answered Viushin, promptly, "that's _kasha_" (hasty pudding
made of rice).

"_Kasha_!" exclaimed Dodd, contemptuously. "It looks more like the
stuff that the children of Israel made bricks of. They don't seem to
have wanted for straw, either," he added, as he fished up several
stems of dried grass. "What is it, anyhow?"

"That," said Viushin again, with a comical assumption of learning, "is
the celebrated 'Jamuk chi a la Poosteretsk,' the national dish of the
Koraks, made from the original recipe of His High Excellency
Oollcot Ootkoo Minyegeetkin, Grand Hereditary Taiyon and Vwisokee
Prevoskhodeetelstvo--"

"Hold on!" exclaimed Dodd, with a deprecating gesture, "that's enough,
I'll eat it"; and taking out a halfspoonful of the dark viscid mass,
he put it to his lips.

"Well," said we expectantly, after a moment's pause, "what does it
taste like?"

"Like the mud pies of infancy!" he replied sententiously. "A little
salt, pepper, and butter, and a good deal of meat and flour, with a
few well selected vegetables, would probably improve it; but it isn't
particularly bad as it is."

Upon the strength of this rather equivocal recommendation I tasted it.
Aside from a peculiar earthy flavour, it had nothing about it which
was either pleasant or disagreeable. Its qualities were all negative
except its grassiness, which alone gave character and consistency to
the mass.

The mixture, known among the Koraks as _manyalla,_ is eaten by all
the Siberian tribes as a substitute for bread, and is the nearest
approximation which native ingenuity can make to the staff of life. It
is valued, we were told, more for its medicinal virtues than for
any intrinsic excellence of taste, and our limited experience fully
prepared us to believe the statement. Its original elements are
clotted blood, tallow, and half-digested moss, taken from the stomach
of the reindeer, where it is supposed to have undergone some essential
change which fits it for second-hand consumption. These curious and
heterogeneous ingredients are boiled up together with a few handfuls
of dried grass to give the mixture consistency, and the dark mass is
then moulded into small loaves and frozen for future use. Our host was
evidently desirous of treating us with every civility, and, as a mark
of especial consideration, bit off several choice morsels from the
large cube of venison in his grimy hand, and taking them from his
mouth, offered them to me. I waived graciously the implied compliment,
and indicated Dodd as the proper recipient of such attentions; but the
latter revenged himself by requesting an old woman to bring me some
raw tallow, which he soberly assured her constituted my only food
when at home. My indignant denials, in English were not, of course,
understood; and the woman, delighted to find an American whose tastes
corresponded so closely with her own, brought the tallow. I was a
helpless victim, and I could only add this last offence to the long
list of grievances which stood to Dodd's credit, and which I hoped
some time to settle in full.

Supper, in the social economy of the Koraks, is emphatically the meal
of the day. Around the kettle of _manyalla_, or the trough of reindeer
meat; gather the men of the band, who during the hours of daylight
have been absent, and who, between mouthfuls of meat or moss, discuss
the simple subjects of thought which their isolated life affords. We
availed ourselves of this opportunity to learn something of the tribes
that inhabited the country to the northward, the reception with which
we should probably meet, and the mode of travel which we should be
compelled to adopt.

[Illustration: Small Adze with bone headpiece]



CHAPTER XVIII


WHY THE KORAKS WANDER--THEIR INDEPENDENCE--CHEERLESS LIFE--USES OF
THE REINDEER--KORAK IDEAS OF DISTANCE--"MONARCH OF THE BRASS-HANDLED
SWORD"

The Wandering Koraks of Kamchatka, who are divided into about forty
different bands, roam over the great steppes in the northern part of
the peninsula, between the 58th and the 63d parallels of latitude.
Their southern limit is the settlement of Tigil, on the west coast,
where they come annually to trade, and they are rarely found north
of the village of Penzhina, two hundred miles from the head of the
Okhotsk Sea. Within these limits they wander almost constantly with
their great herds of reindeer, and so unsettled and restless are they
in their habits, that they seldom camp longer than a week in any one
place. This, however, is not attributable altogether to restlessness
or love of change. A herd of four or five thousand reindeer will in a
very few days paw up the snow and eat all the moss within a radius of
a mile from the encampment, and then, of course, the band must move to
fresh pasture ground. Their nomadic life, therefore, is not entirely a
choice, but partly a necessity, growing out of their dependence upon
the reindeer. They _must_ wander or their deer will starve, and then
their own starvation follows as a natural consequence. Their
unsettled mode of life probably grew, in the first place, out of the
domestication of the reindeer, and the necessity which it involved of
consulting first the reindeer's wants; but the restless, vagabondish
habits thus produced have now become a part of the Korak's very
nature, so that he could hardly live in any other way, even had he
an opportunity of so doing. This wandering, isolated, independent
existence has given to the Koraks all those characteristic traits of
boldness, impatience of restraint, and perfect self-reliance, which
distinguish them from the Kamchadals and the other settled inhabitants
of Siberia. Give them a small herd of reindeer, and a moss steppe to
wander over, and they ask nothing more from all the world. They are
wholly independent of civilisation and government, and will neither
submit to their laws nor recognise their distinctions. Every man is
a law unto himself so long as he owns a dozen reindeer; and he can
isolate himself, if he so chooses, from all human kind, and ignore
all other interests but his own and his reindeer's. For the sake of
convenience and society they associate themselves in bands of six or
eight families each; but these bands are held together only by mutual
consent, and recognise no governing head. They have a leader called a
_taiyón_ who is generally the largest deer-owner of the band, and
he decides all such questions as the location of camps and time of
removal from place to place; but he has no other power, and must refer
all graver questions of individual rights and general obligations
to the members of the band collectively. They have no particular
reverence for anything or anybody except the evil spirits who bring
calamities upon them, and the "shamáns" or priests, who act as
infernal mediators between these devils and their victims. Earthly
rank they treat with contempt, and the Tsar of all the Russias, if he
entered a Korak tent, would stand upon the same level with its owner.
We had an amusing instance of this soon after we met the first Koraks.
The Major had become impressed in some way with the idea that in order
to get what he wanted from these natives he must impress them with a
proper sense of his power, rank, wealth, and general importance in the
world, and make them feel a certain degree of reverence and respect
for his orders and wishes. He accordingly called one of the oldest and
most influential members of the band to him one day, and proceeded
to tell him, through an interpreter, how rich he was; what immense
resources, in the way of rewards and punishments, he possessed; what
high rank he held; how important a place he filled in Russia, and how
becoming it was that an individual of such exalted attributes should
be treated by poor wandering heathen with filial reverence and
veneration. The old Korak, squatting upon his heels on the ground,
listened quietly to the enumeration of all our leader's admirable
qualities and perfections without moving a muscle of his face; but
finally, when the interpreter had finished, he rose slowly, walked up
to the Major with imperturbable gravity, and with the most benignant
and patronising condescension, patted him softly on the head! The
Major turned red and broke into a laugh; but he never tried again to
overawe a Korak.

Notwithstanding this democratic independence of the Koraks, they are
almost invariably hospitable, obliging, and kind-hearted; and we were
assured at the first encampment where we stopped, that we should
have no difficulty in getting the different bands to carry us on
deer-sledges from one encampment to another until we should reach the
head of Penzhinsk Gulf. After a long conversation with the Koraks who
crowded around us as we sat by the fire, we finally became tired and
sleepy, and with favourable impressions, upon the whole, of this new
and strange people, we crawled into our little _polog_ to sleep. A
voice in another part of the _yurt_ was singing a low, melancholy air
in a minor key as I closed my eyes, and the sad, oft-repeated refrain,
so different from ordinary music, invested with peculiar loneliness
and strangeness my first night in a Korak tent.

To be awakened in the morning by a paroxysm of coughing, caused by
the thick, acrid smoke of a low-spirited fire--to crawl out of a skin
bedroom six feet square into the yet denser and smokier atmosphere of
the tent--to eat a breakfast of dried fish, frozen tallow, and venison
out of a dirty wooden trough, with an ill-conditioned dog standing at
each elbow and disputing one's right to every mouthful, is to enjoy
an experience which only Korak life can afford, and which only Korak
insensibility can long endure. A very sanguine temperament may find
in its novelty some compensation for its discomfort, but the novelty
rarely outlasts the second day, while the discomfort seems to increase
in a direct ratio with the length of the experience. Philosophers
may assert that a rightly constituted mind will rise superior to all
outward circumstances; but two weeks in a Korak tent would do more to
disabuse their minds of such an erroneous impression than any amount
of logical argument. I do not myself profess to be preternaturally
cheerful, and the dismal aspect of things when I crawled out of my
fur sleeping-bag, on the morning after our arrival at the first
encampment, made me feel anything but amiable. The first beams of
daylight were just struggling in misty blue lines through the smoky
atmosphere of the tent. The recently kindled fire would not burn but
would smoke; the air was cold and cheerless; two babies were crying
in a neighbouring _polog_; the breakfast was not ready, everybody was
cross, and rather than break the harmonious impression of general
misery, I became cross also. Three or four cups of hot tea, however,
which were soon forthcoming, exerted their usual inspiriting
influence, and we began gradually to take a more cheerful view of
the situation. Summoning the _taiyón,_ and quickening his dull
apprehension with a preliminary pipe of strong Circassian tobacco, we
succeeded in making arrangements for our transportation to the next
Korak encampment in the north, a distance of about forty miles.
Orders were at once given for the capture of twenty reindeer and the
preparation of sledges. Snatching hurriedly a few bites of hardbread
and bacon by way of breakfast, I donned fur hood and mittens, and
crawled out through the low doorway to see how twenty trained deer
were to be separated from a herd of four thousand wild ones.

[Illustration: TENTS AND REINDEER OF THE WANDERING KORAKS]

Surrounding the tent in every direction were the deer belonging to
the band, some pawing up the snow with their sharp hoofs in search of
moss, others clashing their antlers together and barking hoarsely in
fight, or chasing one another in a mad gallop over the steppe. Near
the tent a dozen men with lassos arranged themselves in two parallel
lines, while twenty more, with a thong of sealskin two or three
hundred yards in length, encircled a portion of the great herd, and
with shouts and waving lassos began driving it through the narrow
gantlet. The deer strove with frightened bounds to escape from the
gradually contracting circle, but the sealskin cord, held at short
distances by shouting natives, invariably turned them back, and they
streamed in a struggling, leaping throng through the narrow opening
between the lines of lassoers. Ever and anon a long cord uncoiled
itself in air, and a sliding noose fell over the antlers of some
unlucky deer whose slit ears marked him as trained, but whose
tremendous leaps and frantic efforts to escape suggested very grave
doubts as to the extent of the training. To prevent the interference
and knocking together of the deer's antlers when they should be
harnessed in couples, one horn was relentlessly chopped off close to
the head by a native armed with a heavy sword-like knife, leaving a
red ghastly stump from which the blood trickled in little streams over
the animal's ears. They were then harnessed to sledges in couples, by
a collar and trace passing between the forelegs; lines were affixed to
small sharp studs in the headstall, which pricked the right or left
side of the head when the corresponding rein was jerked, and the
equipage was ready.

Bidding good-by to the Lesnoi Kamchadals, who returned from here, we
muffled ourselves from the biting air in our heaviest furs, took
seats on our respective sledges, and at a laconic "tok" (go) from the
_taiyón_ we were off; the little cluster of tents looking like a group
of conical islands behind us as we swept out upon the limitless ocean
of the snowy steppe. Noticing that I shivered a little in the keen
air, my driver pointed away to the northward, and exclaimed with a
pantomimic shrug, "Tam _shipka_ kholodno"--"There it's awful cold." We
needed not to be informed of the fact; the rapidly sinking thermometer
indicated our approach to the regions of perpetual frost, and I looked
forward with no little apprehension to the prospect of sleeping
outdoors in the arctic temperatures of which I had read, but which I
had never yet experienced.

This was my first trial of reindeer travel, and I was a little
disappointed to find that it did not quite realise the expectations
that had been excited in my boyish days by the pictures of galloping
Lapland deer in the old geographies. The reindeer were there, but they
were not the ideal reindeer of early fancy, and I felt a vague sense
of personal injury and unjustifiable deception at the substitution
of these awkward, ungainly beasts for the spirited and fleet-footed
animals of my boyish imagination. Their trot was awkward and heavy,
they carried their heads low, and their panting breaths and gaping
mouths were constantly suggestive of complete exhaustion, and excited
pity for their apparently laborious exertions, rather than admiration
for the speed which they really did exhibit. My ideal reindeer would
never have demeaned himself by running with his mouth wide open. When
I learned, as I afterward did, that they were compelled to breathe
through their mouths, on account of the rapid accumulation of frost in
their nostrils, it relieved my apprehensions of their breaking down,
but did not alter my firm conviction that my ideal reindeer was
infinitely superior in an aesthetic point of view to the real animal.
I could not but admit, however, the inestimable value of the reindeer
to his wandering owners. Besides carrying them from place to place, he
furnishes them with clothes, food, and covering for their tents; his
antlers are made into rude implements of all sorts; his sinews are
dried and pounded into thread, his bones are soaked in seal oil and
burned for fuel, his entrails are cleaned, filled with tallow, and
eaten; his blood, mixed with the contents of his stomach, is made
into _manyalla_; his marrow and tongue are considered the greatest
of delicacies; the stiff, bristly skin of his legs is used to cover
snow-shoes; and finally his whole body, sacrificed to the Korak gods,
brings down upon his owners all the spiritual and temporal blessings
which they need. It would be hard to find another animal which fills
so important a place in the life of any body of men, as the reindeer
does in the life and domestic economy of the Siberian Koraks. I cannot
now think of one which furnishes even the four prime requisites of
food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. It is a singular fact,
however, that the Siberian natives--the only people, so far as I know,
who have ever domesticated the reindeer, except the Laps--do not
use in any way the animal's milk. Why so important and desirable an
article of food should be neglected, when every other part of the
deer's body is turned to some useful account, I cannot imagine. It is
certain, however, that no one of the four great wandering tribes of
north-eastern Siberia, Koraks, Chukchis, Tunguses, and Lamutkis, uses
in any way the reindeer's milk.

By two o'clock in the afternoon it began to grow dark, but we
estimated that we had accomplished at least half of our day's journey,
and halted for a few moments to allow our deer to eat. The last half
of the distance seemed interminable. The moon rose round and bright as
the shield of Achilles, and lighted up the vast, lonely _tundra_ with
noonday brilliancy; but the silence and desolation, the absence of any
dark object upon which the fatigued eye could rest, and the apparently
boundless extent of this Dead Sea of snow, oppressed us with new
and strange sensations of awe. A dense mist or steam, which is an
unfailing indication of intense cold, rose from the bodies of the
reindeer and hung over the road long after we had passed. Beards
became tangled masses of frozen iron wire; eyelids grew heavy with
white rims of frost and froze together when we winked; noses assumed
a white, waxen appearance with every incautious exposure, and only by
frequently running beside our sledges could we keep any "feeling" in
our feet. Impelled by hunger and cold, we repeated twenty times the
despairing question, "How much farther is it?" and twenty times we
received the stereotyped but indefinite answer of "cheimuk," near,
or occasionally the encouraging assurance that we would arrive in a
minute. Now we knew very well that we _should not_ arrive in a minute,
nor probably in forty minutes; but it afforded temporary relief to be
_told_ that we would. My frequent inquiries finally spurred my driver
into an attempt to express the distance arithmetically, and with
evident pride in his ability to speak Russian, he assured me that it
was only "dva verst," or two versts more. I brightened up at once with
anticipations of a warm fire and an infinite number of cups of hot
tea, and by imagining prospective comfort, succeeded in forgetting
the present sense of suffering. At the expiration, however, of
three-quarters of an hour, seeing no indication of the promised
encampment, I asked once more if it were much farther away. One Korak
looked around over the steppe with a well assumed air of seeking some
landmark, and then turning to me with a confident nod, repeated the
word "verst" and held up _four fingers_! I sank back upon my sledge
in despair. If we had been three-quarters of an hour in losing two
versts, how long would be we in losing versts enough to get back to
the place from which we started. It was a discouraging problem, and
after several unsuccessful attempts to solve it by the double rule
of three backwards, I gave it up. For the benefit of the future
traveller, I give, however, a few native expressions for distances,
with their numerical equivalents: "cheimuk"--near, twenty versts;
"bolshe nyet"--there is no more, fifteen versts; "sey chas
priyédem"--we will arrive this minute, means any time in the course of
the day or night; and "dailóko"--far, is a week's journey. By bearing
in mind these simple values, the traveller will avoid much bitter
disappointment, and _may_ get through without entirely losing faith in
human veracity. About six o'clock in the evening, tired, hungry, and
half-frozen, we caught sight of the sparks and fire-lit smoke which
arose from the tents of the second encampment, and amid a general
barking of dogs and hallooing of men we stopped among them. Jumping
hurriedly from my sledge, with no thought but that of getting to a
fire, I crawled into the first hole which presented itself, with a
firm belief, founded on the previous night's experience, that it must
be a door. After groping about some time in the dark, crawling over
two dead reindeer and a heap of dried fish, I was obliged to shout for
assistance. Great was the astonishment of the proprietor, who came to
the rescue with a torch, to find a white man and a stranger crawling
around aimlessly in his fish storehouse. He relieved his feelings with
a ty-e-e-e of amazement, and led the way, or rather crawled away, to
the interior of the tent, where I found the Major endeavouring with a
dull Korak knife to cut his frozen beard loose from his fur hood and
open communication with his mouth through a sheet of ice and hair. The
teakettle was soon simmering and spouting over a brisk fire, beards
were thawed out, noses examined for signs of frost-bites, and in half
an hour we were seated comfortably on the ground around a candle-box,
drinking tea and discussing the events of the day.

Just as Viushin was filling up our cups for the third time, the skin
curtain of the low doorway at our side was lifted up, and the most
extraordinary figure which I ever beheld in Kamchatka crawled silently
in, straightened up to its full height of six feet, and stood
majestically before us. It was an ugly, dark-featured man about thirty
years of age. He was clothed in a scarlet dress-coat with blue facings
and brass buttons, with long festoons of gold cord hung across the
breast, trousers of black, greasy deerskin, and fur boots. His hair
was closely shaven from the crown of his head, leaving a long fringe
of lank, uneven locks hanging about his ears and forehead. Long
strings of small coloured beads depended from his ears, and over one
of them he had plastered for future use a huge quid of masticated
tobacco. About his waist was tied a ragged sealskin thong, which
supported a magnificent silver-hilted sword and embossed scabbard. His
smoky, unmistakably Korak face, shaven head, scarlet coat, greasy
skin trousers, gold cord, sealskin belt, silver-hilted sword, and fur
boots, made up such a remarkable combination of glaring contrasts
that we could do nothing for a moment but stare at him in utter
_amazement_. He reminded me of "Talipot, the Immortal Potentate of
Manacabo, Messenger of the Morning, Enlightener of the Sun, Possessor
of the Whole Earth, and Mighty Monarch of the Brass-handled Sword."

"Who are you?" suddenly demanded the Major, in Russian. A low bow was
the only response. "Where in the name of Chort did you come from?"
Another bow. "Where did you get that coat? Can't you say something?
Ay! Meranef! Come and talk to this--fellow, I can't make him say
anything." Dodd suggested that he might be a messenger from the
expedition of Sir John Franklin, with late advices from the Pole
and the North-west Passage, and the silent owner of the sword bowed
affirmatively, as if this were the true solution of the mystery. "Are
you a pickled cabbage?" suddenly inquired Dodd in Russian. The Unknown
intimated by a very emphatic bow that he was. "_He_ doesn't understand
anything!" said Dodd in disgust; "where's Meranef?" Meranef soon made
his appearance, and began questioning the mysterious visitor in a
scarlet coat as to his residence, name, and previous history. For the
first time he now found a voice. "What does he say?" asked the Major;
"what's his name?"

"He says his name is Khanálpooginuk."

"Where did he get that coat and sword?"

"He says 'the Great White Chief' gave it to him for a dead reindeer."
This was not very satisfactory, and Meranef was instructed to get some
more intelligible information. Who the "Great White Chief" might be,
and why he should give a scarlet coat and a silver-hilted sword for a
dead reindeer, were questions beyond our ability to solve. Finally,
Meranef's puzzled face cleared up, and he told us that the coat and
sword had been presented to the Unknown by the Emperor, as a reward
for reindeer given to the starving Russians of Kamchatka during a
famine. The Korak was asked if he had received no paper with these
gifts, and he immediately left the tent, and returned in a moment with
a sheet of paper tied up carefully with reindeer's sinews between a
couple of thin boards. This paper explained everything. The coat and
sword had been given to the present owner's father, during the reign
of Alexander I., by the Russian Governor of Kamchatka as a reward for
succour afforded the Russians in a famine. From the father they
had descended to the son, and the latter, proud of his inherited
distinction, had presented himself to us as soon as he heard of our
arrival. He wanted nothing in particular except to show himself, and
after examining his sword, which was really a magnificent weapon, we
gave him a few bunches of tobacco and dismissed him. We had hardly
expected to find in the interior of Kamchatka any relics of Alexander
I., dating back to the time of Napoleon.

[Illustration: Iron Skin Scraper]



CHAPTER XIX


THE SNOW-DRIFT COMPASS--MARRIAGE BY CAPTURE--AN INTOXICATING
FUNGUS--MONOTONY OF KORAK LIFE

On the following morning at daybreak we continued our journey, and
rode until four hours after dark, over a boundless level steppe,
without a single guiding landmark to point the way. I was surprised
to see how accurately our drivers could determine the points of the
compass and shape their course by simply looking at the snow. The
heavy north-east winds which prevail in this locality throughout the
winter sweep the snow into long wave-like ridges called _sastrugi_
(sas-troo'-gee), which are always perpendicular to the course of the
wind, and which almost invariably run in a north-west and south-east
direction. They are sometimes hidden for a few days by fresh-fallen
snow; but an experienced Korak can always tell by removing the upper
layer which way is north, and he travels to his destination by night
or day in a nearly straight line.

We reached the third encampment about six o'clock, and upon entering
the largest tent were surprised to find it crowded with natives, as if
in expectation of some ceremony or entertainment. Inquiry through
our interpreter elicited the interesting fact that the ceremony of
marriage was about to be performed for, or rather by, two members
of the band; and instead of taking up our quarters, as we at first
intended, in another less crowded tent, we determined to remain
and see in what manner this rite would be solemnised by a wholly
uncivilised and barbarous people.

The marriage ceremony of the Koraks is especially remarkable for its
entire originality, and for the indifference which it manifests to the
sensibilities of the bridegroom. In no other country does there
exist such a curious mixture of sense and absurdity as that which is
dignified in the social life of the Koraks with the name of marriage;
and among no other people, let us charitably hope, is the unfortunate
bridegroom subjected to such humiliating indignities. The
contemplation of marriage is, or ought to be, a very serious thing
to every young man; but to a Korak of average sensibility it must be
absolutely appalling. No other proof of bravery need ever be exhibited
than a certificate of marriage (if the Koraks have such documents),
and the bravery rises into positive heroism when a man marries two or
three times. I once knew a Korak in Kamchatka who had four wives, and
I felt as much respect for his heroic bravery as if he had charged
with the Six Hundred at Balaklava.

The ceremony, I believe, has never been described; and inadequate as a
description may be to convey an idea of the reality, it will perhaps
enable American lovers to realise what a calamity they escaped when
they were born in America and not in Kamchatka. The young Korak's
troubles begin when he first falls in love; this, like Achilles'
wrath, is "the direful spring of woes unnumbered." If his intentions
are serious, he calls upon the damsel's father and makes formal
proposals for her hand, ascertains the amount of her dower in
reindeer, and learns her estimated value. He is probably told that he
must work for his wife two or three years--a rather severe trial of
any young man's affection. He then seeks an interview with the young
lady herself, and performs the agreeable or disagreeable duty
which corresponds in Korak to the civilised custom of "popping the
question." We had hoped to get some valuable hints from the Koraks as
to the best method which their experience suggested for the successful
accomplishment of this delicate task; but we could learn nothing that
would be applicable to the more artificial relations of civilised
society. If the young man's sentiments are reciprocated, and he
obtains a positive promise of marriage, he goes cheerfully to work,
like Ferdinand in _The Tempest_ for Miranda's father, and spends two
or three years in cutting and drawing wood, watching reindeer,
making sledges, and contributing generally to the interests of his
prospective father-in-law. At the end of this probationary period
comes the grand "experimentum crucis," which is to decide his fate and
prove the success or the uselessness of his long labour.

At this interesting crisis we had surprised our Korak friends in the
third encampment. The tent which we had entered was an unusually large
one, containing twenty-six _pologs_, arranged in a continuous circle
around its inner circumference. The open space in the centre around
the fire was crowded with the dusky faces and half-shaven heads of the
Korak spectators, whose attention seemed about equally divided between
sundry kettles and troughs of _manyalla_, boiled venison, marrow,
frozen tallow, and similar delicacies, and the discussion of some
controverted point of marriage etiquette. Owing to my ignorance of the
language, I was not able to enter thoroughly into the merits of the
disputed question; but it seemed to be ably argued on both sides.
Our sudden entrance seemed to create a temporary diversion from
the legitimate business of the evening. The tattooed women and
shaven-headed men stared in open-mouthed astonishment at the
pale-faced guests who had come unbidden to the marriage-feast, having
on no wedding garments. Our faces were undeniably dirty, our blue
hunting-shirts and buckskin trousers bore the marks of two months'
rough travel, in numerous rips, tears, and tatters, which were only
partially masked by a thick covering of reindeer hair from our fur
_kukhlánkas._ Our general appearance, in fact, suggested a more
intimate acquaintance with dirty _yurts_, mountain thickets, and
Siberian storms, than with the civilising influences of soap, water,
razors, and needles. We bore the curious scrutiny of the assemblage,
however, with the indifference of men who were used to it, and
sipped our hot tea while waiting for the ceremony to begin. I looked
curiously around to see if I could distinguish the happy candidates
for matrimonial honours; but they were evidently concealed in one of
the closed _pologs_. The eating and drinking seemed by this time to be
about finished, and an air of expectation and suspense pervaded the
entire crowd. Suddenly we were startled by the loud and regular
beating of a native _barabán_ or bass drum, which fairly filled the
tent with a great volume of sound. At the same instant the tent opened
to permit the passage of a tall, stern-looking Korak, with an
armful of willow sprouts and alder branches, which he proceeded
[Illustration: DRAWINGS OF THE KORAKS. ILLUSTRATIVE OF THEIR MYTHS.]
to distribute in all the _pologs_ of the tent. "What do you suppose
that's for?" asked Dodd in an undertone. "I don't know," was the
reply; "keep quiet and you'll see." The regular throbs of the drum
continued throughout the distribution of the willow sticks and at
its close the drummer began to sing a low, musical recitative, which
increased gradually in volume and energy until it swelled into a wild,
barbarous chant, timed by the regular beats of the heavy drum. A
slight commotion followed, the front curtains of all the _pologs_ were
thrown up, the women stationed themselves in detachments of two or
three at the entrance of each polog, and took up the willow branches
which had been provided. In a moment a venerable native, whom we
presumed to be the father of one of the parties, emerged from one of
the _pologs_ near the door, leading a good-looking young Korak and the
dark-faced bride. Upon their appearance the excitement increased to
the pitch of frenzy, the music redoubled its rapidity, the men in the
centre of the tent joined in the uncouth chant, and uttered at short
intervals peculiar shrill cries of wild excitement. At a given signal
from the native who had led out the couple, the bride darted suddenly
into the first _polog_, and began a rapid flight around the tent,
raising the curtains between the _pologs_ successively, and passing
under. The bridegroom instantly followed in hot pursuit; but the women
who were stationed in each compartment threw every possible impediment
in his way, tripping up his unwary feet, holding down the curtains
to prevent his passage, and applying the willow and alder switches
unmercifully to a very susceptible part of his body as he stooped
to raise them. The air was filled with drum-beats, shouts of
encouragement and derision, and the sound of the heavy blows which
were administered to the unlucky bridegroom by each successive
detachment of women as he ran the gantlet. It became evident at once
that despite his most violent efforts he would fail to overtake the
flying Atalanta before she completed the circuit of the tent. Even the
golden apples of Hesperides would have availed him little against such
disheartening odds; but with undismayed perseverance he pressed
on, stumbling headlong over the outstretched feet of his female
persecutors, and getting constantly entangled in the ample folds of
the reindeerskin curtains, which were thrown with the skill of a
matador over his head and eyes. In a moment the bride had entered the
last closed _polog_ near the door, while the unfortunate bridegroom
was still struggling with his accumulating misfortunes about half-way
around the tent. I expected to see him relax his efforts and give up
the contest when the bride disappeared, and was preparing to protest
strongly in his behalf against the unfairness of the trial; but, to my
surprise, he still struggled on, and with a final plunge burst through
the curtains of the last _polog_ and rejoined his bride. The music
suddenly ceased, and the throng began to stream out of the tent. The
ceremony was evidently over. Turning to Meranef, who with a delighted
grin had watched its progress, we inquired what it all meant. "Were
they married?"--"Da's," was the affirmative reply. "But," we objected,
"he didn't catch her."--"She waited for him, your honour, in the last
_polog_, and if he caught her there it was enough."--"Suppose he had
_not_ caught her there, then what?"--"Then," answered the Cossack,
with an expressive shrug of commiseration, "the _beidnak_ [poor
fellow] would have had to work two more years." This was pleasant--for
the bridegroom! To work two years for a wife, undergo a severe course
of willow sprouts at the close of his apprenticeship, and then have
no security against a possible breach of promise on the part of the
bride. His faith in her constancy must be unlimited. The intention of
the whole ceremony was evidently to give the woman an opportunity to
marry the man or not, as she chose, since it was obviously impossible
for him to catch her under such circumstances, unless she voluntarily
waited for him in one of the _pologs_. The plan showed a more
chivalrous regard and deference for the wishes and preferences of the
gentler sex than is common in an unreconstructed state of society; but
it seemed to me, as an unprejudiced observer, that the same result
might have been obtained without so much abuse of the unfortunate
bridegroom! Some regard ought to have been paid to his feelings, if
he _was_ a man. I could not ascertain the significance of the
chastisement which was inflicted by the women upon the bridegroom with
the willow switches. Dodd suggested that it might be emblematical of
married life--a sort of foreshadowing of future domestic experience;
but in view of the masculine Korak character, this hardly seemed to
me probable. No woman in her senses would try the experiment a second
time upon one of the stern, resolute men who witnessed that ceremony,
and who seemed to regard it _then_ as perfectly proper. Circumstances
would undoubtedly alter cases.

Mr. A.S. Bickmore, in the _American Journal of Science_ for May,
1868, notices this curious custom of the Koraks, and says that the
chastisement is intended to test the young man's "ability to bear up
against the ills of life"; but I would respectfully submit that the
ills of life do not generally come in that shape, and that switching
a man over the back with willow sprouts is a very singular way of
preparing him for future misfortunes of any kind.

Whatever may be the motive, it is certainly an infringement upon the
generally recognised prerogatives of the sterner sex, and should be
discountenanced by all Koraks who favour masculine supremacy. Before
they know it, they will have a woman's suffrage association on their
hands, and female lecturers will be going about from band to band
advocating the substitution of hickory clubs and slung-shots for the
harmless willow switches, and protesting against the tyranny which
will not permit them to indulge in this interesting diversion at least
three times a week. [Footnote: It is now well known that this ceremony
is a form of "marriage by capture" which is widely prevalent among
barbarous peoples.--G.K. (1909).]

After the conclusion of the ceremony we removed to an adjacent tent,
and were surprised, as we came out into the open air, to see three
or four Koraks shouting and reeling about in an advanced stage of
intoxication--celebrating, I suppose, the happy event which had just
transpired. I knew that there was not a drop of alcoholic liquor in
all northern Kamchatka, nor, so far as I knew, anything from which it
could be made, and it was a mystery to me how they had succeeded in
becoming so suddenly, thoroughly, hopelessly, undeniably drunk. Even
Ross Browne's beloved Washoe, with its "howling wilderness" saloons,
could not have turned out more creditable specimens of intoxicated
humanity than those before us. The exciting agent, whatever it might
be, was certainly as quick in its operation, and as effective in its
results, as any "tanglefoot" or "bottled lightning" known to modern
civilisation. Upon inquiry we learned to our astonishment that they
had been eating a species of the plant vulgarly known as toadstool.
There is a peculiar fungus of this class in Siberia, known to the
natives as "muk-a-moor," and as it possesses active intoxicating
properties, it is used as a stimulant by nearly all the Siberian
tribes. [Footnote: _Agaricus muscarius_ or fly-agaric.] Taken in large
quantities it is a violent narcotic poison; but in small doses it
produces all the effects of alcoholic liquor. Its habitual use,
however, completely shatters the nervous system, and its sale by
Russian traders to the natives has consequently been made a penal
offence by Russian law. In spite of all prohibitions, the trade is
still secretly carried on, and I have seen twenty dollars' worth of
furs bought with a single fungus. The Koraks would gather it for
themselves, but it requires the shelter of timber for its growth, and
is not to be found on the barren steppes over which they wander; so
that they are obliged for the most part to buy it, at enormous prices,
from the Russian traders. It may sound strangely to American ears, but
the invitation which a convivial Korak extends to his passing friend
is not, "Come in and have a drink," but, "Won't you come in and take a
toadstool?" Not a very alluring proposal perhaps to a civilised toper,
but one which has a magical effect upon a dissipated Korak. As the
supply of these toadstools is by no means equal to the demand, Korak
ingenuity has been greatly exercised in the endeavour to economise the
precious stimulant, and make it go as far as possible. Sometimes, in
the course of human events, it becomes imperatively necessary that a
whole band shall get drunk together, and they have only one toadstool
to do it with. For a description of the manner in which this band gets
drunk collectively and individually upon one fungus, and keeps drunk
for a week, the curious reader is referred to Goldsmith's _Citizen
of the World_, Letter 32. It is but just to say, however, that this
horrible practice is almost entirely confined to the settled Koraks of
Penzhinsk Gulf--the lowest, most degraded portion of the whole tribe.
It may prevail to a limited extent among the wandering natives, but I
never heard of more than one such instance outside of the Penzhinsk
Gulf settlements.

Our travel for the next few days after leaving the third encampment
was fatiguing and monotonous. The unvarying routine of our daily life
in smoky Korak tents, and the uniform flatness and barrenness of the
country over which we journeyed, became inexpressibly tiresome, and we
looked forward in longing anticipation to the Russian settlement of
Gizhiga, at the head of Gizhiginsk Gulf, which was the Mecca of our
long pilgrimage. To spend more than a week at one time with the
Wandering Koraks without becoming lonesome or homesick, requires an
almost inexhaustible fertility of mental resource. One is thrown for
entertainment entirely upon himself. No daily paper, with its fresh
material for thought and discussion, comes to enliven the long blank
evenings by the tent fire; no wars or rumours of wars, no _coup
d'état_ of diplomacy, no excitement of political canvass ever agitates
the stagnant intellectual atmosphere of Korak existence. Removed to an
infinite distance, both physically and intellectually, from all of the
interests, ambitions, and excitements which make up our world, the
Korak simply exists, like a human oyster, in the quiet waters of his
monotonous life. An occasional birth or marriage, the sacrifice of a
dog, or, on rare occasions, of a man to the Korak Ahriman, and the
infrequent visits of a Russian trader, are the most prominent events
in his history, from the cradle to the grave. I found it almost
impossible sometimes to realise, as I sat by the fire in a Korak tent,
that I was still in the modern world of railroads, telegraphs,
and daily newspapers. I seemed to have been carried back by some
enchantment through the long cycles of time, and made a dweller in
the tents of Shem and Japheth. Not a suggestion was there in all our
surroundings of the vaunted enlightenment and civilisation of the
nineteenth century, and as we gradually accustomed ourselves to the
new and strange conditions of primitive barbarism, our recollections
of a civilised life faded into the unreal imagery of a vivid dream.

[Illustration: Ice scratcher used in stalking seals]



CHAPTER XX


THE KORAK TONGUE--RELIGION OF TERROR--INCANTATIONS OF SHAMANS--KILLING
OF OLD AND SICK--REINDEER SUPERSTITION--KORAK CHARACTER

Our long intercourse with the Wandering Koraks gave us an opportunity
of observing many of their peculiarities, which would very likely
escape the notice of a transient visitor; and as our journey until we
reached the head of Penzhinsk Gulf was barren of incident, I shall
give in this chapter all the information I could gather relative to
the language, religion, superstitions, customs, and mode of life of
the Kamchatkan Koraks.

There can be no doubt whatever that the Koraks and the powerful
Siberian tribe known as Chukchis (or Tchucktchis, according to
Wrangell) descended originally from the same stock, and migrated
together from their ancient locations to the places where they now
live. Even after several centuries of separation, they resemble each
other so closely that they can hardly be distinguished, and their
languages differ less one from the other than the Portuguese differs
from the Spanish. Our Korak interpreters found very little difficulty
in conversing with Chukchis; and a comparison of vocabularies which we
afterward made showed only a slight dialectical variation, which could
be easily accounted for by a few centuries of separation. None of
the Siberian languages with which I am acquainted are written,
and, lacking a fixed standard of reference, they change with great
rapidity. This is shown by a comparison of a modern Chukchi vocabulary
with the one compiled by M. de Lesseps in 1788. Many words have
altered so materially as to be hardly recognisable. Others, on the
contrary, such as "tin tin," ice, "oottoot," wood, "weeñgay," no,
"ay," yes, and most of the numerals up to ten, have undergone no
change whatever. Both Koraks and Chukchis count by fives instead of
tens, a peculiarity which is also noticeable in the language of the
Co-Yukons in Alaska. The Korak numerals are:--

  Innín,                           One.
  Née-ak°h,                        Two.
  Nee-ók°h,                        Three.
  Née-ák°h,                        Four.
  Míl-li-gen,                      Five.
  In-nín míl-li-gen,               Five-one.
  Née-ak°h   "                     Five-two.
  Nee-ók°h   "                     Five-three.
  Née-ák°h   "                     Five-four.
  Meen-ye-geet-k°hin,              Ten.

After ten they count ten-one, ten-two, etc., up to fifteen, and then
ten-five-one; but their numerals become so hopelessly complicated when
they get above twenty, that is would be easier to carry a pocketful of
stones and count with them, than to pronounce the corresponding words.

Fifty-six, for instance, is
"Nee-akh-khleep-kin-meen-ye-geet-khin-par-ol-in-nín-míl-li-gen," and
it is only fifty-six after it is all pronounced! It ought to be at
least two hundred and sixty-three millions nine hundred and fourteen
thousand seven hundred and one--and then it would be long. But the
Koraks rarely have occasion to use high numbers; and when they do,
they have an abundance of time. It would be a hard day's work for a
boy to explain in Korak one of the miscellaneous problems in Ray's
Higher Arithmetic. To say 324 × 5260 = 1,704,240 would certainly
entitle him to a recess of an hour and a reward of merit. We
were never able to trace any resemblance whatever between the
Koraki-Chukchi language and the languages spoken by the natives on the
eastern side of Bering Strait. If there be any resemblance, it must be
in grammar rather than in vocabulary.

[Illustration: A KORAK GIRL]

The religion of all the natives of north-eastern Siberia, wandering
and settled, including six or seven widely different tribes, is that
corrupted form of Buddhism known as Shamanism. It is a religion which
varies considerably in different places and among different people;
but with the Koraks and Chukchis it may be briefly defined as the
worship of the evil spirits who are supposed to be embodied in all the
mysterious powers and manifestations of Nature, such as epidemic and
contagious diseases, severe storms, famines, eclipses, and brilliant
auroras. It takes its name from the shamáns or priests, who act as
interpreters of the evil spirits' wishes and as mediators between them
and man. All unnatural phenomena, and especially those of a disastrous
and terrible nature, are attributed to the direct action of these
evil spirits, and are considered as plain manifestations of their
displeasure. It is claimed by many that the whole system of Shamanism
is a gigantic imposture practised by a few cunning priests upon
the easy credulity of superstitious natives. This I am sure is a
prejudiced view. No one who has ever lived with the Siberian natives,
studied their character, subjected himself to the same influences that
surround them, and put himself as far as possible in their places,
will ever doubt the sincerity of either priests or followers, or
wonder that the worship of evil spirits should be their only religion.
It is the only religion possible for such men in such circumstances.
A recent writer [Footnote: W.E.H. Lecky, _History of Rationalism
in Europe_.] of great fairness and impartiality has described so
admirably the character of the Siberian Koraks, and the origin and
nature of their religious belief, that I cannot do better than quote
his words:--

"Terror is everywhere the beginning of religion. The phenomena which
impress themselves most forcibly on the mind of the savage are not
those which enter manifestly into the sequence of natural laws, and
which are productive of most beneficial effects; but those which are
disastrous and apparently abnormal. Gratitude is less vivid than
fear, and the smallest infraction of a natural law produces a deeper
impression than the most sublime of its ordinary operations. When,
therefore, the most startling and terrible aspects of Nature are
presented to his mind--when the more deadly forms of disease or
natural convulsion desolate his land, the savage derives from them an
intensely realised perception of diabolical presence. In the darkness
of the night; amid the yawning chasms and the wild echoes of the
mountain gorge; under the blaze of the comet or the solemn gloom of
the eclipse; when famine has blasted the land; when the earthquake
and the pestilence have slaughtered their thousands; in every form
of disease which refracts and distorts the reason, in all that is
strange, portentous, and deadly, he feels and cowers before the
supernatural. Completely exposed to all the influences of Nature, and
completely ignorant of the chain of sequence that unites its various
parts, he lives in continual dread of what he deems the direct and
isolated acts of evil spirits. Feeling them continually near him, he
will naturally endeavour to enter into communion with them. He will
strive to propitiate them with gifts. If some great calamity has
fallen upon him, or if some vengeful passion has mastered his reason,
he will attempt to invest himself with their authority, and his
excited imagination will soon persuade him that he has succeeded in
his desire."

These pregnant words are the key to the religion of the Siberian
natives, and afford the only intelligible explanation of the origin of
shamans. If any proof were needed that this system of religion is the
natural outgrowth of human nature in certain conditions of barbarism,
it would be furnished by the universal prevalence of Shamanism in
north-eastern Siberia among so many diverse tribes of different
character and different origin. The tribe of Tunguses for instance,
is certainly of Chinese descent, and the tribe of Yakuts is certainly
Turkish. Both came from different regions, bringing different beliefs,
superstitions, and modes of thought; but, when both were removed from
all disturbing agencies and subjected to the same external influences,
both developed precisely the same system of religious belief. If
a band of ignorant, barbarous Mahometans were transported to
north-eastern Siberia, and compelled to live alone in tents, century
after century, amid the wild, gloomy scenery of the Stanavoi
Mountains, to suffer terrific storms whose causes they could not
explain, to lose their reindeer suddenly by an epidemic disease which
defied human remedies, to be frightened by magnificent auroras that
set the whole universe in a blaze, and decimated by pestilences whose
nature they could not understand and whose disastrous effects they
were powerless to avert--they would almost inevitably lose by degrees
their faith in Allah and Mahomet, and become precisely such Shamanists
as the Siberian Koraks and Chukchis are today. Even a whole century of
partial civilisation and Christian training cannot wholly counteract
the irresistible Shamanistic influence which is exerted upon the mind
by the wilder, more terrible manifestations of Nature in these lonely
and inhospitable regions. The Kamchadals who accompanied me to the
Samanka Mountains were the sons of Christian parents, and had been
brought up from infancy in the Greek Church; they were firm believers
in the Divine atonement and in Divine providence, and prayed always
night and morning for safety and preservation; yet, when overtaken
by a storm in that gloomy range of mountains, the sense of the
supernatural overcame their religious convictions, God seemed far away
while evil spirits were near and active, and they sacrificed a dog,
like very pagans, to propitiate the diabolical wrath of which the
storm was an evidence. I could cite many similar instances, where the
strongest and apparently most sincere convictions of the reality
of Divine government and superintendence have been overcome by
the influence upon the imagination of some startling and unusual
phenomenon of Nature. Man's actions are governed not so much by what
he intellectually believes as by what he vividly realises; and it is
this vivid realisation of diabolical presence which has given rise to
the religion of Shamanism.

The duties of the shamans or priests among the Koraks are, to make
incantations over the sick, to hold communication with the evil
spirits, and to interpret their wishes and decrees to man. Whenever
any calamity, such as disease, storm, or famine, comes upon a band, it
is of course attributed to some spirit's displeasure, and the shaman
is consulted as to the best method of appeasing his wrath. The priest
to whom application is made assembles the people in one of the largest
tents of the encampment, puts on a long robe marked with fantastic
figures of birds and beasts and curious hieroglyphic emblems, unbinds
his long black hair, and taking up a large native drum, begins to sing
in a subdued voice to the accompaniment of slow, steady drum-beats. As
the song progresses it increases in energy and rapidity, the priest's
eyes seem to become fixed, he contorts his body as if in spasms, and
increases the vehemence of his wild chant until the drum-beats make
one continuous roll. Then, springing to his feet and jerking his head
convulsively until his long hair fairly snaps, he begins a frantic
dance about the tent, and finally sinks apparently exhausted into his
seat. In a few moments he delivers to the awe-stricken natives the
message which he has received from the evil spirits, and which
consists generally of an order to sacrifice to them a certain number
of dogs or reindeer, or perhaps a man.

[Illustration: KORAK DOGS SACRIFICED TO PROPITIATE THE SPIRITS OF
EVIL]

In these wild incantations the priests sometimes practise all sorts of
frauds upon their credulous followers, by pretending to swallow live
coals and to pierce their bodies with knives; but, in a majority of
instances, the shaman seems actually to believe that he is under
the control and guidance of diabolical intelligence. The natives
themselves, however, seem to doubt occasionally the priest's pretended
inspiration, and whip him severely to test the sincerity of his
professions and the genuineness of his revelations. If his fortitude
sustains him under the infliction without any exhibition of human
weakness or suffering, his authority as a minister of the evil spirits
is vindicated, and his commands obeyed. Aside from the sacrifices
which are ordered by the shamans, the Koraks offer general oblations
at least twice a year, to assure a good catch of fish and seal and a
prosperous season. We frequently saw twenty or thirty dogs suspended
by the necks on long poles over a single encampment. Quantities of
green grass are collected during the, summer and twisted into wreaths,
to be hung around the necks of the slaughtered animals; and offerings
of tobacco are always thrown to the evil spirits when the Koraks
cross the summit of a mountain. The bodies of the dead, among all the
wandering tribes, are burned, together with all their effects, in the
hope of a final resurrection of both spirit and matter; and the sick,
as soon as their recovery becomes hopeless, are either stoned to
death or speared. We found it to be true, as we had been told by the
Russians and the Kamchadals, that the Koraks murdered all their old
people as soon as sickness or the infirmities of age unfitted them
for the hardships of a nomadic life. Long experience has given them
a terrible familiarity with the best and quickest methods of taking
life; and they often explained to us with the most sickening
minuteness, as we sat at night in their smoky _pologs_, the different
ways in which a man could be killed, and pointed out the vital parts
of the body where a spear or knife thrust would prove most instantly
fatal. I thought of De Quincey's celebrated Essay upon "Murder
Considered as One of the Fine Arts," and of the field which a Korak
encampment would afford to his "Society of Connoisseurs in Murder."
All Koraks are taught to look upon such a death as the natural end of
their existence, and they meet it generally with perfect composure.
Instances are rare where a man desires to outlive the period of
his physical activity and usefulness. They are put to death in
the presence of the whole band, with elaborate but unintelligible
ceremonies; their bodies are then burned, and the ashes suffered to be
scattered and blown away by the wind.

These customs of murdering the old and sick, and burning the bodies of
the dead, grow naturally out of the wandering life which the Koraks
have adopted, and are only illustrations of the powerful influence
which physical laws exert everywhere upon the actions and moral
feelings of men. They both follow logically and almost inevitably from
the very nature of the country and climate. The barrenness of the soil
in north-eastern Siberia, and the severity of the long winter, led
man to domesticate the reindeer as the only means of obtaining
a subsistence; the domestication of the reindeer necessitated a
wandering life; a wandering life made sickness and infirmity unusually
burdensome to both sufferers and supporters; and this finally led to
the murder of the old and sick, as a measure both of policy and mercy.
The same causes gave rise to the custom of burning the dead. Their
nomadic life made it impossible for them to have any one place of
common sepulture, and only with the greatest difficulty could they dig
graves at all in the perpetually frozen ground. Bodies could not be
left to be torn by wolves, and burning them was the only practicable
alternative. Neither of these customs presupposes any original and
innate savageness or barbarity on the part of the Koraks themselves.
They are the natural development of certain circumstances, and only
prove that the strongest emotions of human nature, such as filial
reverence, fraternal affection, selfish love of life, and respect for
the remains of friends, all are powerless to oppose the operation of
great natural laws. The Russian Church is endeavouring by missionary
enterprise to convert all the Siberian tribes to Christianity; and
although they have met with a certain degree of apparent success among
the settled tribes of Yukagirs (yoo-kag'-eers), Chuances (choo-an'-ces),
and Kamchadals, the wandering natives still cling to Shamanism, and
there are more than 70,000 followers of that religion in the scanty
population of north-eastern Siberia. Any permanent and genuine
conversion of the Wandering Koraks and Chukchis must be preceded by
some educational enlightenment and an entire change in their mode of
life.

Among the many superstitions of the Wandering Koraks and Chukchis,
one of the most noticeable is their reluctance to part with a living
reindeer. You may purchase as many dead deer as you choose, up to five
hundred, for about seventy cents apiece; but a living deer they will
not give to you for love nor money. You may offer them what they
consider a fortune in tobacco, copper kettles, beads, and scarlet
cloth, for a single live reindeer, but they will persistently refuse
to sell him; yet, if you will allow them to kill the very same animal,
you can have his carcass for one small string of common glass beads.
It is useless to argue with them about this absurd superstition. You
can get no reason for it or explanation of it, except that "to sell a
live reindeer would be _atkin_ [bad]." As it was very necessary in the
construction of our proposed telegraph line to have trained reindeer
of our own, we offered every conceivable inducement to the Koraks to
part with one single deer; but all our efforts were in vain. They
could sell us a hundred dead deer for a hundred pounds of tobacco; but
five hundred pounds would not tempt them to part with a single animal
as long as the breath of life was in his body. During the two years
and a half which we spent in Siberia, no one of our parties, so far as
I know, ever succeeded in buying from the Koraks or Chukchis a single
living reindeer. All the deer which we eventually owned--some eight
hundred--we obtained from the Wandering Tunguses. [Footnote: This
feeling or superstition eventually disappeared or was overcome. Many
years later, living reindeer were bought in north-eastern Siberia for
transportation to Alaska.]

[Illustration: A RACE OF WANDERING KORAK REINDEER TEAMS]

The Koraks are probably the wealthiest deer-owners in Siberia, and
consequently in the world. Many of the herds which we saw in northern
Kamchatka numbered from eight to twelve thousand; and we were told
that a certain rich Korak, who lived in the middle of the great
tundra, had three immense herds in different places, numbering in
the aggregate thirty thousand head. The care of these great herds is
almost the only occupation of the Koraks' lives. They are obliged to
travel constantly from place to place to find them food, and to watch
them night and day to protect them from wolves. Every day eight or ten
Koraks, armed with spears and knives, leave the encampment just before
dark, walk a mile or two to the place where the deer happen to be
pastured, build themselves little huts of trailing pine branches,
about three feet in height and two in diameter, and squat in them
throughout the long, cold hours of an arctic night, watching for
wolves. The worse the weather is, the greater the necessity for
vigilance. Sometimes, in the middle of a dark winter's night, when a
terrible north-easterly storm is howling across the steppe in clouds
of flying snow, a band of wolves will make a fierce, sudden attack
upon a herd of deer, and scatter it to the four winds. This it is
the business of the Korak sentinels to prevent. Alone and almost
unsheltered on a great ocean of snow, each man squats down in his
frail beehive of a hut, and spends the long winter nights in watching
the magnificent auroras, which seem to fill the blue vault of heaven
with blood and dye the earth in crimson, listening to the pulsating of
the blood in his ears and the faint distant howls of his enemies the
wolves. Patiently he endures cold which freezes mercury and storms
which sweep away his frail shelter like chaff in a mist of flying
snow. Nothing discourages him; nothing frightens him into seeking the
shelter of the tents. I have seen him watching deer at night, with
nose and cheeks frozen so that they had turned black; and have come
upon him early cold winter mornings, squatting under three or four
bushes, with his face buried in his fur coat, as if he were dead. I
could never pass one of those little bush huts on a great desolate
tundra without thinking of the man who had once squatted in it alone,
and trying to imagine what had been his thoughts while watching
through long dreary nights for the first faint flush of dawn. Had he
never wondered, as the fiery arms of the aurora waved over his head,
what caused these mysterious streamers? Had the solemn far-away stars
which circled ceaselessly above the snowy plain never suggested to him
the possibility of other brighter, happier worlds than this? Had not
some

  "--revealings faint and far,
  Stealing down from moon and star,
  Kindled in that human clod
  Thought of Destiny and God?"

Alas for poor unaided human nature! Supernatural influences he could
and did feel; but the drum and wild shrieks of the shamán showed how
utterly he failed to understand their nature and teachings.

The natural disposition of the Wandering Koraks is thoroughly good.
They treat their women and children with great kindness; and during
all my intercourse with them, extending over two years, I never saw a
woman or a child struck. Their honesty is remarkable. Frequently they
would harness up a team of reindeer after we had left their tents in
the morning, and overtake us at a distance of five or ten miles, with
a knife, a pipe, or some such trifle which we had overlooked and
forgotten in the hurry of departure. Our sledges, loaded with tobacco,
beads, and trading goods of all kinds, were left unguarded outside
their tents; but never, so far as we knew, was a single article
stolen. We were treated by many bands with as much kindness and
generous hospitality as I ever experienced in a civilised country and
among Christian people; and if I had no money or friends, I would
appeal to a band of Wandering Koraks for help with much more
confidence than I should ask the same favour of many an American
family. Cruel and barbarous they may be, according to our ideas of
cruelty and barbarity; but they have never been known to commit an act
of treachery, and I would trust my life as unreservedly in their hands
as I would in the hands of any other uncivilised people whom I have
ever known.

Night after night, as we journeyed northward, the polar star
approached nearer and nearer to the zenith, until finally, at the
sixty-second parallel of latitude, we caught sight of the white peaks
of the Stanavoi Mountains, at the head of Penzhinsk Gulf, which marked
the northern boundary of Kamchatka. Under the shelter of their
snowy slopes we camped for the last time in the smoky tents of the
Kamchatkan Koraks, ate for the last time from their wooden troughs,
and bade good-by with little regret to the desolate steppes of the
peninsula and to tent life with its wandering people.

[Illustration: Women's Knives used in making clothing]



CHAPTER XXI


FIRST FROST-BITE--THE SETTLED KORAKS HOUR-GLASS YURTS--CLIMBING
DOWN CHIMNEYS--YURT INTERIORS--LEGS AS FEATURES--TRAVELLING BY
"PAVOSKA"--BAD CHARACTER OF SETTLED KORAKS

On the morning of November 23d, in a clear, bracing atmosphere of
twenty-five degrees below zero, we arrived at the mouth of the large
river called the Penzhina, which empties into Penzhinsk Gulf, at the
head of the Okhotsk Sea. A dense cloud of frozen mist, which hung over
the middle of the gulf, showed the presence there of open water; but
the mouth of the river was completely choked up with great hummocks,
rugged green slabs, and confused masses of ice, hurled in by a
south-westerly storm, and frozen together in the wildest shapes of
angular disorder. Through the grey mist we could see dimly, on a high
bluff opposite, the strange outlines of the X-shaped _yurts_ of the
Kamenoi Koraks.

Leaving our drivers to get the reindeer and sledges across as best
they could, the Major, Dodd, and I started on foot, picking our way
between huge irregular blocks of clear green ice, climbing on hands
and knees over enormous bergs, falling into wide, deep crevices, and
stumbling painfully across the _chevaux-de-frise_ of sharp splintered
fragments into which the ice had been broken by a heavy sea. We had
almost reached the other side, when Dodd suddenly cried out, "_Oh_,
Kennan! Your nose is all white; rub it with snow--quick!" I have not
the slightest doubt that the rest of my face also turned white at this
alarming announcement; for the loss of my nose at the very outset of
my arctic career would be a very serious misfortune. I caught up a
handful of snow, however, mixed with sharp splinters of ice, and
rubbed the insensible member until there was not a particle of skin
left on the end of it, and then continued the friction with my mitten
until my arm ached. If energetic treatment would save it, I was
determined not to lose it that time. Feeling at last a painful thrill
of returning circulation, I relaxed my efforts, and climbed up the
steep bluff behind Dodd and the Major, to the Korak village of
Kamenoi.

The settlement resembled as much as anything a collection of titanic
wooden hour-glasses, which had been half shaken down and reduced to a
state of rickety dilapidation by an earthquake. The houses--if houses
they could be called--were about twenty feet in height, rudely
constructed of driftwood which had been brought down by the river, and
could be compared in shape to nothing but hour-glasses. They had no
doors, or windows of any kind, and could be entered only by climbing
up a pole on the outside, and sliding down another pole through the
chimney--a mode of entrance whose practicability depended entirely
upon the activity and intensity of the fire which burned underneath.
The smoke and sparks, although sufficiently disagreeable, were trifles
of comparative insignificance. I remember being told, in early
infancy, that Santa Claus always came into a house through the
chimney; and although I accepted the statement with the unreasoning
faith of childhood, I could never understand how that singular feat
of climbing down a chimney could be safely accomplished. To satisfy
myself, I felt a strong inclination, every Christmas, to try the
experiment, and was only prevented from doing so by the consideration
of stove-pipes. I might succeed, I thought, in getting down the
chimney; but coming out into a room through an eight-inch stove-pipe
and a narrow stove-door was utterly out of the question. My first
entrance into a Korak _yurt_, however, at Kamenoi, solved all my
childish difficulties, and proved the possibility of entering a house
in the eccentric way which Santa Claus is supposed to adopt. A large
crowd of savage-looking fur-clad natives had gathered around us when
we entered the village, and now stared at us with stupid curiosity as
we made our first attempt at climbing a pole to get into a house.
Out of deference for the Major's rank and superior attainments, we
permitted him to go first. He succeeded very well in getting up the
first pole, and lowered himself with sublime faith into the dark
narrow chimney hole, out of which were pouring clouds of smoke; but
at this critical moment, when his head was still dimly visible in the
smoke, and his body out of sight in the chimney, he suddenly came to
grief. The holes in the log down which he was climbing were too small
to admit even his toes, covered as they were with heavy fur boots;
and there he hung in the chimney, afraid to drop and unable to climb
out--a melancholy picture of distress. Tears ran out of his closed
eyes as the smoke enveloped his head, and he only coughed and
strangled whenever he tried to shout for help. At last a native on the
inside, startled at the appearance of his struggling body, came to
his assistance, and succeeded in lowering him safely to the ground.
Profiting by his experience, Dodd and I paid no attention to the
holes, but putting our arms around the smooth log, slid swiftly down
until we struck bottom. As I opened my tearful eyes, I was saluted
by a chorus of drawling "zda-ro'-o-o-va's" from half a dozen skinny,
greasy old women, who sat cross-legged on a raised platform around the
fire, sewing fur clothes.

The interior of a Korak _yurt_--that is, of one of the wooden _yurts_
of the _settled_ Koraks--presents a strange and not very inviting
appearance to one who has never become accustomed by long habit to its
dirt, smoke, and frigid atmosphere. It receives its only light, and
that of a cheerless, gloomy character, through the round hole, about
twenty feet above the floor, which serves as window, door, and
chimney, and which is reached by a round log with holes in it, that
stands perpendicularly in the centre. The beams, rafters, and logs
which compose the _yurt_ are all of a glossy blackness, from the smoke
in which they are constantly enveloped. A wooden platform, raised
about a foot from the earth, extends out from the walls on three sides
to a width of six feet, leaving an open spot eight or ten feet in
diameter in the centre for the fire and a huge copper kettle of
melting snow. On the platform are pitched three or four square skin
_pologs_, which serve as sleeping apartments for the inmates and as
refuges from the smoke, which sometimes becomes almost unendurable.
A little circle of flat stones on the ground, in the centre of the
_yurt_, forms the fireplace, over which is usually simmering a kettle
of fish or reindeer meat, which, with dried salmon, seal's blubber,
and rancid oil, makes up the Korak bill of fare. Everything that you
see or touch bears the distinguishing marks of Korak origin--grease
and smoke. Whenever any one enters the _yurt_, you are apprised of the
fact by a total eclipse of the chimney hole and a sudden darkness, and
as you look up through a mist of reindeer hairs, scraped off from the
coming man's fur coat, you see a thin pair of legs descending the pole
in a cloud of smoke. The legs of your acquaintances you soon learn to
recognise by some peculiarity of shape or covering; and their faces,
considered as means of personal identification, assume a secondary
importance. If you see Ivan's legs coming down the chimney, you feel a
moral certainty that Ivan's head is somewhere above in the smoke; and
Nicolai's boots, appearing in bold relief against the sky through the
entrance hole, afford as satisfactory proof of Nicolai's identity as
his head would, provided that part of his body came in first. Legs,
therefore, are the most expressive features of a Korak's countenance,
when considered from an interior standpoint. When snow drifts up
against the _yurt_, so as to give the dogs access to the chimney, they
take a perfect delight in lying around the hole, peering down into the
_yurt_, and snuffing the odours of boiling fish which rise from
the huge kettle underneath. Not unfrequently they get into a grand
comprehensive free fight for the best place of observation; and just
as you are about to take your dinner of boiled salmon off the fire,
down comes a struggling, yelping dog into the kettle, while his
triumphant antagonist looks down through the chimney hole with all
the complacency of gratified vengeance upon his unfortunate victim. A
Korak takes the half-scalded dog by the back of the neck, carries
him up the chimney, pitches him over the edge of the _yurt_ into a
snow-drift, and returns with unruffled serenity to eat the fish-soup
which has thus been irregularly flavoured with dog and thickened
with hairs. Hairs, and especially reindeer's hairs, are among the
indispensable ingredients of everything cooked in a Korak _yurt_, and
we soon came to regard them with perfect indifference. No matter what
precautions we might take, they were sure to find their way into our
tea and soup, and stick persistently to our fried meat. Some one was
constantly going out or coming in over the fire, and the reindeerskin
coats scraping back and forth through the chimney hole shed a perfect
cloud of short grey hairs, which sifted down over and into everything
of an eatable nature underneath. Our first meal in a Korak _yurt_,
therefore, at Kamenoi, was not at all satisfactory.

[Illustration: HOUR-GLASS HOUSES OF THE SETTLED KORAKS From a model in
The American Museum of Natural History]

We had not been twenty minutes in the settlement before the _yurt_
that we occupied was completely crowded with stolid, brutal-looking
men, dressed in spotted deerskin clothes, wearing strings of coloured
beads in their ears, and carrying heavy knives two feet in length in
sheaths tied around their legs. They were evidently a different class
of natives from any we had yet seen, and their savage animal faces did
not inspire us with much confidence. A good-looking Russian, however,
soon made his appearance, and coming up to us with uncovered head,
bowed and introduced himself as a Cossack from Gizhiga, sent to meet
us by the Russian governor at that place. The courier who had preceded
us from Lesnoi had reached Gizhiga ten days before us, and the
governor had despatched a Cossack at once to meet us at Kamenoi, and
conduct us through the settled Korak villages around the head of
Penzhinsk Gulf. The Cossack soon cleared the _yurt_ of natives, and
the Major proceeded to question him about the character of the country
north and west of Gizhiga, the distance from Kamenoi to the Russian
outpost of Anadyrsk, the facilities for winter travel, and the time
necessary for the journey. Fearful for the safety of the party of men
which he presumed to have been landed by the engineer-in-chief at the
mouth of the Anadyr River, Major Abaza had intended to go directly
from Kamenoi to Anadyrsk himself in search of them, and to send Dodd
and me westward along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea to meet Mahood
and Bush. The Cossack, however, told us that a party of men from the
Anadyr River had arrived at Gizhiga on dog-sledges just previous to
his departure, and that they had brought no news of any Americans
in the vicinity of Anadyrsk or on the river. Col. Bulkley, the
chief-engineer of the enterprise, had promised us, when we sailed from
San Francisco, that he would land a party of men with a whale boat at
or near the mouth of the Anadyr River, early enough in the season so
that they could ascend the river to the settlement of Anadyrsk and
open communication with us by the first winter road. This he had
evidently failed to do; for, if a party had been so landed, the
Anadyrsk people would certainly have heard something about it. The
unfavourable nature of the country around Bering Strait, or the
lateness of the season when the Company's vessels reached that point,
had probably compelled the abandonment of this part of the original
plan. Major Abaza had always disapproved the idea of leaving a
party near Bering Strait; but he could not help feeling a little
disappointment when he found that no such party had been landed, and
that he was left with only four men to explore the eighteen hundred
miles of country between the strait and the Amur River. The Cossack
said that no difficulty would be experienced in getting dog-sledges
and men at Gizhiga to explore any part of the country west or north of
that place, and that the Russian governor would give us every possible
assistance.

[Illustration: INTERIOR OF A KORAK YURT. GETTING FIRE WITH THE FIRE
DRILL Photograph in The American Museum of Natural History]

Under these circumstances there was nothing to be done but to push on
to Gizhiga, which could be reached, the Cossack said, in two or three
days. The Kamenoi Koraks were ordered to provide a dozen dog-sledges
at once, to carry us on to the next settlement of Shestakóva; and the
whole village was soon engaged, under the Cossack's superintendence,
in transferring our baggage and provisions from the deer-sledges of
the Wandering Koraks to the long, narrow dog-sledges of their settled
relations. Our old drivers were then paid off in tobacco, beads,
and showy calico prints, and after a good deal of quarrelling
and disputing about loads between the Koraks and our new Cossack
Kerrillof, everything was reported ready. Although it was now almost
noon, the air was still keen as a knife; and, muffling up our faces
and heads in great tippets, we took seats on our respective sledges,
and the fierce Kamenoi dogs went careering out of the village and down
the bluff in a perfect cloud of snow, raised by the spiked _oerstels_
of their drivers.

The Major, Dodd, and I were travelling in covered sledges, known to
the Siberians as "pavoskas" (pah-voss'-kahs), and the reckless driving
of the Kamenoi Koraks made us wish, in less than an hour, that we had
taken some other means of conveyance, from which we could escape more
readily in case of accident or overturn. As it was, we were so boxed
up that we could hardly move without assistance. Our _pavoskas_
resembled very much long narrow coffins, covered with sealskin,
mounted on runners, and roofed over at the head by a stiff hood just
large enough to sit up in. A heavy curtain was fastened to the edge
of this top or hood, and in bad weather it could be pulled down and
buttoned so as to exclude the air and flying snow. When we were seated
in these sledges our legs were thrust down into the long coffin-shaped
boxes upon which the drivers sat, and our heads and shoulders
sheltered by the sealskin hoods. Imagine an eight-foot coffin mounted
on runners, and a man sitting up in it with a bushel basket over his
head, and you will have a very correct idea of a Siberian _pavoska_.
Our legs were immovably fixed in boxes, and our bodies so wedged in
with pillows and heavy furs that we could neither get out nor turn
over. In this helpless condition we were completely at our drivers'
mercy; if they chose to let us slide over the edge of a precipice
in the mountains, all we could do was to shut our eyes and trust in
Providence. Seven times in less than three hours my Kamenoi driver,
with the assistance of fourteen crazy dogs and a spiked stick, turned
my _pavoska_ exactly bottom side up, dragged it in that position until
the hood was full of snow, and then left me standing on my head, with
my legs in a box and my face in a snow-drift, while he took a smoke
and calmly meditated upon the difficulties of mountain travel and
the versatility of dog-sledges! It was enough to make Job curse his
grandmother! I threatened him with a revolver, and swore indignantly
by all the evil spirits in the Korak theogony, that if he upset me in
that way again I would kill him without benefit of clergy, and carry
mourning and lamentation to the houses of all his relatives. But it
was of no use. He did not know enough to be afraid of a pistol, and
could not understand my murderous threats. He merely squatted down
upon his heels on the snow, puffed his cheeks out with smoke, and
stared at me in stupid amazement, as if I were some singular species
of wild animal, which exhibited a strange propensity to jabber and
gesticulate in the most ridiculous manner without any apparent cause.
Then, whenever he wanted to ice his sledge-runners, which was as often
as three times an hour, he coolly capsized the _pavoska_, propped it
up with his spiked stick, and I stood on my head while he rubbed the
runners down with water and a piece of deerskin. This finally drove
me to desperation, and I succeeded, after a prolonged struggle, in
getting out of my coffin-shaped box, and seated myself with indignant
feelings and murderous inclinations by the side of my imperturbable
driver. Here my unprotected nose began to freeze again, and my time,
until we reached Shestakóva, was about equally divided between rubbing
that troublesome feature with one hand, holding on with the other, and
picking myself up out of snow-drifts with both.

The only satisfaction I had was in seeing the state of exasperation
to which the Major was reduced by the stupidity and ugliness of his
driver. Whenever he wanted to go on, the driver insisted upon stopping
to take a smoke; when he wanted to smoke, the driver capsized
him skilfully into a snow-drift; when he wanted to walk down a
particularly steep hill, the driver shouted to his dogs and carried
him to the bottom like an avalanche, at the imminent peril of his
life; when he desired to sleep, the driver intimated by impudent
gestures that he had better get out and walk up the side of a
mountain; until, finally, the Major called Kerrillof and made him tell
the Korak distinctly and emphatically, that if he did not obey orders
and show a better disposition, he would be lashed on his sledge,
carried to Gizhiga, and turned over to the Russian governor for
punishment. He paid some attention to this; but all our drivers
exhibited an insolent rudeness which we had never before met with in
Siberia, and which was very provoking. The Major declared that when
our line should be in process of construction and he should have force
enough to do it, he would teach the Kamenoi Koraks a lesson that they
would not soon forget.

We travelled all the afternoon over a broken country, perfectly
destitute of vegetation, which lay between a range of bare white
mountains and the sea, and just before dark reached the settlement of
Shestakóva, which was situated on the coast, at the mouth of a small
wooded stream. Stopping there only a few moments to rest our dogs, we
pushed on to another Korak village called Mikina (Mee-kin-ah), ten
miles farther west, where we finally stopped for the night.

[Illustration: A WOMAN ENTERING A YURT OF THE SETTLED KORAKS]

Mikina was only a copy of Kamenoi on a smaller scale. It had the same
hour-glass houses, the same conical _balagáns_ elevated on stilts, and
the same large skeletons of sealskin _baideras_ (bai'-der-ahs') or
ocean canoes were ranged in a row on the beach. We climbed up
the best-looking _yurt_ in the village--over which hung a dead
disembowelled dog, with a wreath of green grass around his neck--and
slid down the chimney into a miserable room filled to suffocation with
blue smoke, lighted only by a small fire on the earthen floor, and
redolent of decayed fish and rancid oil. Viushin soon had a teakettle
over the fire, and in twenty minutes we were seated like cross-legged
Turks on the raised platform at one end of the _yurt_, munching
hardbread and drinking tea, while about twenty ugly, savage-looking
men squatted in a circle around us and watched our motions. The
settled Koraks of Penzhinsk Gulf are unquestionably the worst,
ugliest, most brutal and degraded natives in all north-eastern
Siberia. They do not number more than three or four hundred, and live
in five different settlements along the seacoast; but they made us
more trouble than all the other inhabitants of Siberia and Kamchatka
together. They led, originally, a wandering life like the other
Koraks; but, losing their deer by some misfortune or disease, they
built themselves houses of driftwood on the seacoast, settled down,
and now gain a scanty subsistence by fishing, catching seals, and
hunting for carcasses of whales which have been killed by American
whaling vessels, stripped of blubber, and then cast ashore by the
sea. They are cruel and brutal in disposition, insolent to everybody,
revengeful, dishonest, and untruthful. Everything which the Wandering
Koraks are they are not. The reasons for the great difference between
the settled and the Wandering Koraks are various. In the first place,
the former live in fixed villages, which are visited very frequently
by the Russian traders; and through these traders and Russian peasants
they have received many of the worst vices of civilisation without any
of its virtues. To this must be added the demoralising influence of
American whalers, who have given the settled Koraks rum and cursed
them with horrible diseases, which are only aggravated by their diet
and mode of life. They have learned from the Russians to lie, cheat,
and steal; and from whalers to drink rum and be licentious. Besides
all these vices, they eat the intoxicating Siberian toadstool in
inordinate quantities, and this habit alone will in time debase and
brutalise any body of men to the last degree. From nearly all these
demoralising influences the Wandering Koraks are removed by the very
nature of their life. They spend more of their time in the open air,
they have healthier and better-balanced physical constitutions, they
rarely see Russian traders or drink Russian vodka, and they are
generally temperate, chaste, and manly in their habits. As a
natural consequence they are better men, morally, physically, and
intellectually, than the settled natives ever will or can be. I have
very sincere and hearty admiration for many Wandering Koraks whom I
met on the great Siberian tundras but their settled relatives are the
worst specimens of men that I ever saw in all northern Asia, from
Bering Strait to the Ural Mountains.



CHAPTER XXII


FIRST ATTEMPT AT DOG-DRIVING--UNPREMEDITATED PROFANITY--A
RUNAWAY--ARRIVAL AT GIZHIGA--HOSPITALITY OF THE ISPRAVNIK--PLANS FOR
THE WINTER

We left Mikina early, November 23d, and started out upon another great
snowy plain, where there was no vegetation whatever except a little
wiry grass and a few meagre patches of trailing-pine.

Ever since leaving Lesnoi I had been studying attentively the art,
or science, whichever it be, of dog-driving, with the fixed but
unexpressed resolution that at some future time, when everything
should be propitious, I would assume the control of my own team, and
astonish Dodd and the natives with a display of my skill as a _kaiur_
(kai-oor).

[Illustration: SETTLED KORAKS IN A TRIAL OF STRENGTH]

I had found by some experience that these unlettered Koraks estimated
a man, not so much by what he knew which they did not, as by what
he knew concerning their own special and peculiar pursuits; and I
determined to demonstrate, even to their darkened understandings, that
the knowledge of civilisation was universal in its application, and
that the white man, notwithstanding his disadvantage in colour, could
drive dogs better by intuition than they could by the aggregated
wisdom of centuries; that in fact he could, if necessary, "evolve
the principles of dog-driving out of the depths of his moral
consciousness." I must confess, however, that I was not a thorough
convert to my own ideas; and I did not disdain therefore to avail
myself of the results of native experience, as far as they coincided
with my own convictions, as to the nature of the true and beautiful
in dog-driving. I had watched every motion of my Korak driver; had
learned theoretically the manner of thrusting the spiked stick between
the-uprights of the runners into the snow, to act as a brake;
had committed to memory and practised assiduously the guttural
monosyllables which meant, in dog-language, "right" and "left," as
well as many others which meant something else, but which I had heard
addressed to dogs; and I laid the flattering unction to my soul that I
could drive as well as a Korak, if not better. To my inexperienced eye
it was as easy as losing money in California mining stocks. On this
day, therefore, as the road was good and the weather propitious, I
determined to put my ideas, original as well as acquired, to the test
of practice. I accordingly motioned my Korak driver to take a back
seat and deliver up to me the insignia of office. I observed in the
expression of his lips, as he handed me the spiked stick, a sort of
latent smile of ridicule, which indicated a very low estimate of my
dog-driving abilities; but I treated it as knowledge should always
treat the sneers of ignorance--with silent contempt; and seating
myself firmly astride the sledge back of the arch, I shouted to the
dogs, "Noo! Pashol!" My voice failed to produce the startling effect
that I had anticipated. The leader--a grim, bluff Nestor of a
dog--glanced carelessly over his shoulder and very perceptibly
slackened his pace. This sudden and marked contempt for my authority
on the part of the dogs did more than all the sneers of the Koraks to
shake my confidence in my own skill. But my resources were not yet
exhausted, and I hurled monosyllable, dissyllable, and polysyllable
at their devoted heads, shouted "Akh! Te shelma! Proclataya takaya!
Smatree! Ya tibi dam!" but all in vain; the dogs were evidently
insensible to rhetorical fireworks of this description, and manifested
their indifference by a still slower gait. As I poured out upon them
the last vial of my verbal wrath, Dodd, who understood the language
that I was so recklessly using, drove slowly up, and remarked
carelessly, "You swear pretty well for a beginner." Had the ground
opened beneath me I should have been less astonished. "Swear! I swear!
You don't mean to say that I've been swearing?"--"Certainly you have,
like a pirate." I dropped my spiked stick in dismay. Were these the
principles of dog-driving which I had evolved out of the depths of my
_moral_ consciousness? They seemed rather to have come from the depths
of my _im_moral _un_consciousness. "Why, you reckless reprobate!"
I exclaimed impressively, "didn't you teach me those very words
yourself?"--"Certainly I did," was the unabashed reply; "but you
didn't ask me what they meant; you asked how to pronounce them
correctly, and I told you. I didn't know but that you were making
researches in comparative philology--trying to prove the unity of the
human race by identity of oaths, or by a comparison of profanity to
demonstrate that the Digger Indians are legitimately descended from
the Chinese. You know that your head (which is a pretty good one
in other respects) always _was_ full of such nonsense."--"Dodd," I
observed, with a solemnity which I intended should awaken repentance
in his hardened sensibilities, "I have been betrayed unwittingly into
the commission of sin; and as a little more or less won't materially
alter my guilt, I've as good a notion as ever I had to give you the
benefit of some of your profane instruction." Dodd laughed derisively
and drove on. This little episode considerable dampened my enthusiasm,
and made me very cautious in my use of foreign language. I feared the
existence of terrific imprecations in the most common dog-phrases,
and suspected lurking profanity even in the monosyllabic "Khta" and
"Hoogh," which I had been taught to believe meant "right" and "left."
The dogs, quick to observe any lack of attention on the part of their
driver, now took encouragement from my silence and exhibited a doggish
propensity to stop and rest, which was in direct contravention of
all discipline, and which they would not have dared to do with an
experienced driver. Determined to vindicate my authority by more
forcible measures, I launched my spiked stick like a harpoon at the
leader, intending to have it fall so that I could pick it up as the
sledge passed. The dog however dodged it cleverly, and it rolled
away ten feet from the road. Just at that moment three or four wild
reindeer bounded out from behind a little rise of ground three or
four hundred yards away, and galloped across the steppe toward a deep
precipitous ravine, through which ran a branch of the Mikina River.
The dogs, true to their wolfish instincts, started with fierce,
excited howls in pursuit. I made a frantic grasp at my spiked stick
as we rushed past, but failed to reach it, and away we went over the
tundra toward the ravine, the sledge half the time on one runner, and
rebounding from the hard _sastrugi_ (sas-troo'-gee) or snow-drifts
with a force that suggested speedy dislocation of one's joints. The
Korak, with more common sense than I had given him credit for, had
rolled off the sledge several seconds before, and a backward glance
showed a miscellaneous bundle of arms and legs revolving rapidly over
the snow in my wake. I had no time, however, with ruin staring me in
the face, to commiserate his misfortune. My energies were all devoted
to checking the terrific speed with which we were approaching the
ravine. Without the spiked stick I was perfectly helpless, and in a
moment we were on the brink. I shut my eyes, clung tightly to the
arch, and took the plunge. About half-way down, the descent became
suddenly steeper, and the lead-dog swerved to one side, bringing the
sledge around like the lash of a whip, overturning it, and shooting me
like a huge living meteor through the air into a deep soft drift of
snow at the bottom. I must have fallen at least eighteen feet, for I
buried myself entirely, with the exception of my lower extremities,
which, projecting above the snow, kicked a faint signal for rescue.
Encumbered with heavy furs, I extricated myself with difficulty; and
as I at last emerged with three pints of snow down my neck, I saw
the round, leering face of my late driver grinning at me through the
bushes on the edge of the bluff. "Ooma," he hailed. "Well," replied
the snowy figure standing waist-high in the drift.--"Amerikanski nyett
dobra kaiur, eh?" [American no good driver]. "Nyett sofsem dobra" was
the melancholy reply as I waded out. The sledge, I found, had become
entangled in the bushes near me, and the dogs were all howling in
chorus, nearly wild with the restraint. I was so far satisfied with my
experiment that I did not desire to repeat it at present, and made no
objections to the Korak's assuming again his old position. I was
fully convinced, by the logic of circumstances, that the science of
dog-driving demanded more careful and earnest consideration than I
had yet given to it; and I resolved to study carefully its elementary
principles, as expounded by its Korak professors, before attempting
again to put my own ideas upon the subject into practice.

As we came out of the ravine upon the open steppe I saw the rest of
our party a mile away, moving rapidly toward the Korak village of Kuil
(Koo-eel'). We passed Kuil late in the afternoon, and camped for the
night in a forest of birch, poplar, and aspen trees, on the banks of
the Paren River.

We were now only about seventy miles from Gizhiga. On the following
night we reached a small log _yurt_ on a branch of the Gizhiga River,
which had been built there by the government to shelter travellers,
and Friday morning, November 25th, about eleven o'clock, we caught
sight of the red church-steeple which marked the location of the
Russian settlement of Gizhiga. No one who has not travelled for three
long months through a wilderness like Kamchatka, camped out in storms
among desolate mountains, slept for three weeks in the smoky tents,
and yet smokier and dirtier _yurts_ of the Koraks, and lived
altogether like a perfect savage or barbarian---no one who has not
experienced this can possibly understand with what joyful hearts we
welcomed that red church steeple, and the civilisation of which it was
the sign. For almost a month we had slept every night on the ground
or the snow; had never seen a chair, a table, a bed, or a mirror; had
never been undressed night or day; and had washed our faces only three
or four times in an equal number of weeks! We were grimy and smoky
from climbing up and down Korak chimneys; our hair was long and matted
around our ears; the skin had peeled from our noses and cheek-bones
where it had been frozen; our cloth coats and trousers were grey with
reindeer hairs from our fur _kukhlankas_; and we presented, generally,
as wild and neglected an appearance as men could present, and still
retain any lingering traces of better days. We had no time or
inclination, however, to "fix up"; our dogs dashed at a mad gallop
into the village with a great outcry, which awakened a responsive
chorus of howls from two or three hundred other canine throats; our
drivers shouted "Khta! khta! hoogh! hoogh!" and raised clouds of snow
with their spiked sticks as we rushed through the streets, and the
whole population came running to their doors to ascertain the cause
of the infernal tumult. One after another our fifteen sledges went
careering through the village, and finally drew up before a large,
comfortable house, with double glass windows, where arrangements had
been made, Kerrillof said, for our reception. Hardly had we entered a
large, neatly swept and scrubbed room, and thrown off our heavy frosty
furs, than the door again opened, and in rushed a little impetuous,
quick-motioned man, with a heavy auburn moustache, and light hair cut
short all over his head, dressed in neat broadcloth coat and trousers
and a spotless linen shirt, with seal rings on his fingers, a plain
gold chain at his vest button, and a cane. We recognised him at once
as the ispravnik, or Russian governor. Dodd and I made a sudden
attempt to escape from the room, but we were too late, and saluting
our visitor with "zdrastvuitia," [Footnote: "Good health," or "Be in
health," the Russian greeting.] we sat down awkwardly enough on our
chairs, rolled our smoky hands up in our scarlet and yellow cotton
handkerchiefs, and, with a vivid consciousness of our dirty faces and
generally disreputable appearance, tried to look self-possessed,
and to assume the dignity which befitted officers of the great
Russian-American Telegraph Expedition! It was a pitiable failure. We
could not succeed in looking like anything but Wandering Koraks in
reduced circumstances. The ispravnik, however, did not seem to notice
anything unusual in our appearance, but rattled away with an incessant
fire of quick, nervous questions, such as "When did you leave
Petropavlovsk? Are you just from America? I sent a Cossack. Did you
meet him? How did you cross the tundras; with the Koraks? _Akh!_ those
_proclatye_ Koraks! Any news from St. Petersburg? You must come over
and dine with me. How long will you stay in town? You can take a bath
now before dinner. Ay! _lòodee!_ [very loud and peremptory]. Go and
tell my Ivan to heat up the bath quick! _Akh Chort yeekh! vazmee!_"
and the restless little man finally stopped from sheer exhaustion, and
began pacing nervously across the room, while the Major related our
adventures, gave him the latest news from Russia, explained our plans,
the object of our expedition, told him of the murder of Lincoln, the
end of the Rebellion, the latest news from the French invasion of
Mexico, the gossip of the Imperial Court, and no end of other news
which had been old with us for six months, but of which the poor
exiled ispravnik had never heard a word. He had had no communication
with Russia in almost eleven months. After insisting again upon our
coming over to his house immediately to dine, he bustled out of the
room, and gave us an opportunity to wash and dress.

Two hours afterward, in all the splendour of blue coats, brass
buttons, and shoulder-straps, with shaven faces, starched shirts, and
polished leather boots, the "First Siberian Exploring Party" marched
over to the ispravnik's to dine. The Russian peasants whom we met
instinctively took off their frosty fur hoods and gazed wonderingly
at us as we passed, as if we had mysteriously dropped down from some
celestial sphere. No one would have recognised in us the dirty, smoky,
ragged vagabonds who had entered the village two hours before. The
grubs had developed into blue and golden butterflies! We found the
ispravnik waiting for us in a pleasant, spacious room furnished with,
all the luxuries of a civilised home. The walls were papered and
ornamented with costly pictures and engravings, the windows were hung
with curtains, the floor was covered with a soft, bright-coloured
carpet, a large walnut writing-desk occupied one corner of the room, a
rosewood melodeon the other, and in the centre stood the dining-table,
covered with a fresh cloth, polished china, and glittering silver. We
were fairly dazzled at the sight of so much unusual and unexpected
magnificence. After the inevitable "fifteen drops" of brandy, and the
lunch of smoked fish, rye bread, and caviar, which always precedes a
Russian dinner, we took seats at the table and spent an hour and a
half in getting through the numerous courses of cabbage soup, salmon
pie, venison cutlets, game, small meat pies, pudding, and pastry,
which were successively set before us, and in discussing the news of
all the world, from the log villages of Kamchatka to the imperial
palaces of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Our hospitable host then ordered
champagne, and over tall, slender glasses of cool beaded Cliquot we
meditated upon the vicissitudes of Siberian life. Yesterday we sat
on the ground in a Korak tent and ate reindeer meat out of a wooden
trough with our fingers, and today we dined with the Russian governor,
in a luxurious house, upon venison cutlets, plum pudding, and
champagne. With the exception of a noticeable but restrained
inclination on the part of Dodd and myself to curl up our legs and sit
on the floor, there was nothing I believe in our behaviour to betray
the barbarous freedom of the life which we had so recently lived, and
the demoralising character of the influences to which we had been
subjected. We handled our knives and forks, and leisurely sipped our
champagne with a grace which would have excited the envy of Lord
Chesterfield himself. But it was hard work. No sooner did we return to
our quarters than we threw off our uniform coats, spread our bearskins
on the floor and sat down upon them with crossed legs, to enjoy a
comfortable smoke in the good old free-and-easy style. If our faces
had only been just a little dirty we should have been perfectly happy!

The next ten days of our life at Gizhiga were passed in comparative
idleness. We walked out a little when the weather was not too cold,
received formal calls from the Russian merchants of the place, visited
the ispravnik and drank his delicious "flower tea" and smoked his
cigarettes in the evening, and indemnified ourselves for three months
of rough life by enjoying to the utmost such mild pleasures as the
little village afforded. This pleasant, aimless existence, however,
was soon terminated by an order from the Major to prepare for the
winter's campaign, and hold ourselves in readiness to start for the
Arctic Circle or the west coast of the Okhotsk Sea at a moment's
notice. He had determined to explore a route for our proposed line
from Bering Strait to the Amur River before spring should open, and
there was no time to be lost. The information which we could gather
at Gizhiga with regard to the interior of the country was scanty,
indefinite, and unsatisfactory. According to native accounts, there
were only two settlements between the Okhotsk Sea and Bering Strait,
and the nearest of these--Penzhina--was four hundred versts distant.
The intervening country consisted of great moss tundras impassable
in summer, and perfectly destitute of timber; and that portion of it
which lay north-east of the last settlement was utterly uninhabitable
on account of the absence of wood. A Russian officer by the name of
Phillippeus had attempted to explore it in the winter of 1860, but had
returned unsuccessful, in a starving and exhausted condition. In the
whole distance of eight hundred versts between Gizhiga and the mouth
of the Anadyr River there were said to be only four or five places
where timber could be found large enough for telegraph poles, and
over most of the route there was no wood except occasional patches
of trailing-pine. A journey from Gizhiga to the last settlement,
Anadyrsk, on the Arctic Circle, would occupy from twenty to thirty
days, according to weather, and beyond that point there was no
possibility of going under any circumstances. The region west of
Gizhiga, along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, was reported to be
better, but very rugged and mountainous, and heavily timbered with
pine and larch. The village of Okhotsk, eight hundred versts distant,
could be reached on dog-sledges in about a month. This, in brief, was
all the information we could get, and it did not inspire us with very
much confidence in the ultimate success of our enterprise. I
realised for the first time the magnitude of the task which the
Russian-American Telegraph Company had undertaken. We were "in for
it," however, now, and our first duty was obviously to go through
the country, ascertain its extent and nature, and find out what
facilities, if any, it afforded for the construction of our line.

[Illustration: AN OLD MAN OF THE SETTLED KORAKS Photograph in The
American Museum of Natural History]

The Russian settlements of Okhotsk and Gizhiga divided the country
between Bering Strait and the Amur River into three nearly equal
sections, of which two were mountainous and wooded, and one
comparatively level and almost barren. The first of these sections,
between the Amur and Okhotsk, had been assigned to Mahood and Bush,
and we presumed that they were already engaged, in its exploration.
The other two sections, comprising all the region between Okhotsk
and Bering Straits, were to be divided between the Major, Dodd, and
myself. In view of the supposed desolation of the unexplored territory
immediately west of Bering Strait, it was thought best to leave
it unsurveyed until spring, and perhaps until another season. The
promised co-operation of the Anadyr River party had failed us, and
without more men, the Major did not think it expedient to undertake
the exploration of a region which presented so many and so great
obstacles to midwinter travel. The distance which remained to be
traversed, therefore, was only about fourteen hundred versts from
Okhotsk to the Russian outpost of Anadyrsk, just south of the Arctic
Circle. After some deliberation the Major concluded to send Dodd
and me with a party of natives to Anadyrsk, and to start himself on
dog-sledges for the settlement of Okhotsk, where he expected to meet
Mahood and Bush. In this way it was hoped that we should be able in
the course of five months to make a rough but tolerably accurate
survey of nearly the whole route of the line. The provisions which
we had brought from Petropavlovsk had all been used up, with the
exception of some tea, sugar, and a few cans of preserved beef; but we
obtained at Gizhiga two or three _puds_ (poods) [Footnote: One _pud_ =
36 lbs.] of black rye-bread, four or five frozen reindeer, some salt,
and an abundant supply of _yukala_ or dried fish. These, with some
tea and sugar, and a few cakes of frozen milk, made up our store of
provisions. We provided ourselves also with six or eight _puds_ of
Circassian leaf tobacco to be used instead of money; divided equally
our little store of beads, pipes, knives, and trading-goods, purchased
new suits of furs throughout, and made every preparation for three or
four months of camp life in an arctic climate. The Russian governor
ordered six of his Cossacks to transport Dodd and me on dog-sledges as
far as the Korak village of Shestakóva, and sent word to Penzhina by
the returning Anadyrsk people to have three or four men and dog-teams
at the former place by December 20th, ready to carry us on to Penzhina
and Anadyrsk. We engaged an old and experienced Cossack named Gregorie
Zinovief as guide and Chukchi interpreter, hired a young Russian
called Yagór as cook and aid-de-camp (in the literal sense), packed
our stores on our sledges and secured them with lashings of sealskin
thongs, and by December 13th were ready to take the field. That
evening the Major delivered to us our instructions. They were simply
to follow the regular sledge road to Anadyrsk via Shestakóva and
Penzhina, to ascertain what facilities it offered in the way of timber
and soil for the construction of a telegraph line, to set the natives
at work cutting poles at Penzhina and Anadyrsk, and to make side
explorations where possible in search of timbered rivers connecting
Penzhinsk Gulf with Bering Sea. Late in the spring we were to return
to Gizhiga with all the information which we could gather relative
to the country between that point and the Arctic Circle. The Major
himself would remain at Gizhiga until about December 17th, and then
leave on dog-sledges with Viushin and a small party of Cossacks for
the settlement of Okhotsk. If he made a junction with Mahood and Bush,
at that place, he would return at once, and meet us again at Gizhiga
by the first of April, 1866.



CHAPTER XXIII


DOG-SLEDGE TRAVEL--ARCTIC MIRAGES--CAMP AT NIGHT--A HOWLING
CHORUS--NORTHERN LIGHTS

The morning of December 13th dawned clear, cold, and still, with a
temperature of thirty-one degrees below zero; but as the sun did not
rise until half-past ten, it was nearly noon before we could get our
drivers together, and our dogs harnessed for a start. Our little party
of ten men presented quite a novel and picturesque appearance in their
gaily embroidered fur coats, red sashes, and yellow foxskin hoods,
as they assembled in a body before our house to bid good-bye to the
ispravnik and the Major. Eight heavily loaded sledges were ranged in
a line in front of the door, and almost a hundred dogs were springing
frantically against their harnesses, and raising deafening howls
of impatience, as we came out of the house into the still, frosty
atmosphere. We bade everybody good-bye, received a hearty "God bless
you, boys!" from the Major, and were off in a cloud of flying snow,
which stung our faces like burning sparks of fire. Old Paderin, the
chief of the Gizhiga Cossacks, with white frosty hair and beard, stood
out in front of his little red log house as we passed, and waved us a
last good-bye with his fur hood as we swept out upon the great level
steppe behind the town.

It was just midday; but the sun, although at its greatest altitude,
glowed like a red ball of fire low down in the southern horizon, and a
peculiar gloomy twilight hung over the white wintry landscape. I could
not overcome the impression that the sun was just rising and that it
would soon be broad day. A white ptarmigan now and then flew up with
a loud whir before us, uttered a harsh "querk, querk, querk" of
affright, and sailing a few rods away, settled upon the snow and
suddenly became invisible. A few magpies sat motionless in the
thickets of trailing-pine as we passed, but their feathers were
ruffled up around their heads, and they seemed chilled and stupefied
by the intense cold. The distant blue belt of timber along the Gizhiga
River wavered and trembled in its outlines as if seen through currents
of heated air, and the white ghost-like mountains thirty miles away
to the southward were thrown up and distorted by refraction into a
thousand airy, fantastic shapes which melted imperceptibly one into
another, like a series of dissolving views. Every feature of the
scenery was strange, weird, arctic. The red sun rolled slowly along
the southern horizon, until it seemed to rest on a white snowy peak
far away in the south-west, and then, while we were yet expecting day,
it suddenly disappeared and the gloomy twilight deepened gradually
into night. Only three hours had elapsed since sunrise, and yet stars
of the first magnitude could already be plainly distinguished.

[Illustration: YURT AND DOG-TEAM OF THE SETTLED KORAKS.
From a painting by George A. Frost]

We stopped for the night at the house of a Russian peasant who lived
on the bank of the Gizhiga River, about fifteen versts east of the
settlement. While we were drinking tea a special messenger arrived
from the village, bringing two frozen blueberry pies as a parting
token of regard from the Major, and a last souvenir of civilisation.
Pretending to fear that something might happen to these delicacies
if we should attempt to carry them with us, Dodd, as a precautionary
measure, ate one of them up to the last blueberry; and rather than
have him sacrifice himself to a mistaken idea of duty by trying to eat
the other, I attended to its preservation myself and put it for ever
beyond the reach of accidental contingencies.

On the following day we reached the little log _yurt_ on the Malmofka,
where we had spent one night on our way to Gizhiga; and as the cold
was still intense we were glad to avail ourselves again of its
shelter, and huddle around the warm fire which Yagór kindled on a sort
of clay altar in the middle of the room. There was not space enough on
the rough plank floor to accommodate all our party, and our men built
a huge fire of tamarack logs outside, hung over their teakettles,
thawed out their frosty beards, ate dry fish, sang jolly Russian
songs, and made themselves so boisterously happy, that we were tempted
to give up the luxury of a roof for the sake of sharing in their
out-door amusements and merriment. Our thermometers, however, marked
35° below zero, and we did not venture out of doors except when an
unusually loud burst of laughter announced some stupendous Siberian
joke which we thought would be worth hearing. The atmosphere outside
seemed to be just cool enough to exert an inspiriting influence
upon our lively Cossacks, but it was altogether too bracing for
unaccustomed American constitutions. With a good fire, however, and
plenty of hot tea, we succeeded in making ourselves very comfortable
inside the _yurt_, and passed away the long evening in smoking
Circassian tobacco and pine bark, singing American songs, telling
stories, and quizzing our good-natured but unsophisticated Cossack
Meranef.

It was quite late when we finally crawled into our fur bags to sleep;
but long afterward we could hear the songs, jokes, and laughter of our
drivers as they sat around the camp-fire, and told funny stories of
Siberian travel.

We were up on the following morning long before daylight; and, after a
hasty breakfast of black-bread, dried fish, and tea, we harnessed our
dogs, wet down our sledge-runners with water from the teakettle to
cover them with a coating of ice, packed up our camp equipage, and,
leaving the shelter of the tamarack forest around the _yurt_, drove
out upon the great snowy Sahara which lies between the Malmofka River
and Penzhinsk Gulf. It was a land of desolation. A great level steppe,
as boundless to the weary eye as the ocean itself, stretched away in
every direction to the far horizon, without a single tree or bush
to relieve its white, snowy surface. Nowhere did we see any sign of
animal or vegetable life, any suggestion of summer or flowers or warm
sunshine, to brighten the dreary waste of storm-drifted snow.

White, cold, and silent, it lay before us like a vast frozen ocean,
lighted up faintly by the slender crescent of the waning moon in the
east, and the weird blue streamers of the aurora, which went racing
swiftly back and forth along the northern horizon. Even when the sun
rose, huge and fiery, in a haze of frozen moisture at the south,
it did not seem to infuse any warmth or life into the bleak wintry
landscape. It only drowned, in a dull red glare, the blue, tremulous
streamers of the aurora and the white radiance of the moon and stars,
tinged the snow with a faint colour like a stormy sunset, and lighted
up a splendid mirage in the north-west which startled us with its
solemn mockery of familiar scenes. The wand of the Northern Enchanter
touched the barren snowy steppe, and it suddenly became a blue
tropical lake, upon whose distant shore rose the walls, domes, and
slender minarets of a vast oriental city. Masses of luxuriant foliage
seemed to overhang the clear blue water, and to be reflected in its
depths, while the white walls above just caught the first flush of the
rising sun. Never was the illusion of summer in winter, of life in
death, more palpable or more perfect. One almost instinctively glanced
around to assure himself, by the sight of familiar objects, that it
was not a dream; but as his eyes turned again to the north-west across
the dim blue lake, the vast tremulous outlines of the mirage still
confronted him in their unearthly beauty, and the "cloud-capped towers
and gorgeous palaces" seemed, by their mysterious solemnity, to rebuke
the doubt which would ascribe them to a dream. The bright apparition
faded, glowed, and faded again into indistinctness, and from its ruins
rose two colossal pillars sculptured from rose quartz, which gradually
united their capitals and formed a titanic arch like the grand portal
of heaven. This, in turn, melted into an extensive fortress, with,
massive bastions and buttresses, flanking towers and deep embrasures,
and salient and re-entering angles whose shadows and perspective were
as natural as reality itself. Nor was it only at a distance that these
deceptive mirages seemed to be formed. A crow, standing upon the
snow at a distance of perhaps two hundred yards, was exaggerated and
distorted beyond recognition; and once, having lingered a little
behind the rest of the party, I was startled at seeing a long line of
shadowy dog-sledges moving swiftly through the air a short distance
ahead, at a height of eight or ten feet from the ground. The mock
sledges were inverted in position, and the mock dogs trotted along
with their feet in the air; but their outlines were almost as clear
as those of the real sledges and real dogs underneath. This curious
phenomenon lasted only a moment, but it was succeeded by others
equally strange, until at last we lost faith in our eyesight entirely,
and would not believe in the existence of anything unless we could
touch it with our hands. Every bare hillock or dark object on the snow
was a nucleus around which were formed the most deceptive images, and
two or three times we started out with our rifles in pursuit of wolves
or black foxes, which proved, upon closer inspection, to be nothing
but crows. I had never before known the light and atmosphere to be so
favourable to refraction, and had never been so deceived in the size,
shape, and distance of objects on the snow.

[Illustration: A WOMAN FEEDING A DOG-TEAM IN GIZHIGA From a painting
by George A. Frost]

The thermometer at noon marked--35°, and at sunset it was--38°, and
sinking. We had seen no wood since leaving the _yurt_ on the Malmofka
River, and, not daring to camp without a fire, we travelled for five
hours after dark, guided only by the stars and a bluish aurora which
was playing away in the north. Under the influence of the intense
cold, frost formed in great quantities upon everything which was
touched by our breaths. Beards became stiff tangled masses of frozen
iron wire, eyelids grew heavy with long white rims of frost, and froze
together when we winked, and our dogs, enveloped in dense clouds of
steam, looked like snowy polar wolves. Only by running constantly
beside our sledges could we keep any sensation of life in our feet.
About eight o'clock a few scattered trees loomed up darkly against the
eastern sky, and a joyful shout from our leading drivers announced the
discovery of wood. We had reached a small stream called the Usinova
(Oo-seen'-ova), seventy-five versts east of Gizhiga, in the very
middle of the great steppe. It was like coming to an island after
having been long at sea. Our dogs stopped and curled themselves up
into little round balls on the snow, as if conscious that the long
day's journey was ended, while our drivers proceeded to make rapidly
and systematically a Siberian half-faced camp. Three sledges were
drawn up together, so as to make a little semi-enclosure about ten
feet square; the snow was all shovelled out of the interior, and
banked up around the three closed sides, like a snow fort, and a huge
fire of trailing-pine branches was built at the open end. The bottom
of this little snow-cellar was then strewn to a depth of three or four
inches with twigs of willow and alder, shaggy bearskins were spread
down to make a warm, soft carpet, and our fur sleeping-bags arranged
for the night. Upon a small table extemporised out of a candle-box,
which stood in the centre, Yagór soon placed two cups of steaming
hot tea and a couple of dried fish. Then stretching ourselves out in
luxurious style upon our bearskin carpet, with our feet to the fire
and our backs against pillows, we smoked, drank tea, and told stories
in perfect comfort. After supper the drivers piled dry branches of
trailing-pine upon the fire until it sent up a column of hot ruddy
flame ten feet in height, and then gathering in a picturesque group
around the blaze, they sang for hours the wild melancholy songs of the
Kamchadals, and told never-ending stories of hardship and adventure on
the great steppes and along the coast of the "Icy Sea." At last the
great constellation of Orion marked bedtime. Amid a tumult of snarling
and fighting the dogs were fed their daily allowance of one dried fish
each, fur stockings, moist with perspiration, were taken off and dried
by the fire, and putting on our heaviest fur _kukhlankas_ we crawled
feet first into our bearskin bags, pulled them up over our heads, and
slept.

A camp in the middle of a clear, dark winter's night presents a
strange, wild appearance. I was awakened, soon after midnight, by cold
feet, and, raising myself upon one elbow, I pushed my head out of my
frosty fur bag to see by the stars what time it was. The fire had died
away to a red heap of smouldering embers. There was just light enough
to distinguish the dark outlines of the loaded sledges, the fur-clad
forms of our men, lying here and there in groups about the fire, and
the frosty dogs, curled up into a hundred little hairy balls upon the
snow. Away beyond the limits of the camp stretched the desolate steppe
in a series of long snowy undulations, which blended gradually into
one great white frozen ocean, and were lost in the distance and
darkness of night. High overhead, in a sky which was almost black,
sparkled the bright constellations of Orion and the Pleiades--the
celestial clocks which marked the long, weary hours between sunrise
and sunset. The blue mysterious streamers of the aurora trembled in
the north, now shooting up in clear bright lines to the zenith, then
waving back and forth in great majestic curves over the silent camp,
as if warning back the adventurous traveller from the unknown regions
around the Pole. The silence was profound, oppressive. Nothing but
the pulsating of the blood in my ears, and the heavy breathing of the
sleeping men at my feet, broke the universal lull. Suddenly there rose
upon the still night air a long, faint> wailing cry like that of a
human being in the last extremity of suffering. Gradually it swelled
and deepened until it seemed to fill the whole atmosphere with its
volume of mournful sound, dying away at last into a low, despairing
moan. It was the signal-howl of a Siberian dog; but so wild and
unearthly did it seem in the stillness of the arctic midnight, that
it sent the startled blood bounding through my veins to my very
finger-ends. In a moment the mournful cry was taken up by another dog,
upon a higher key--two or three more joined in, then ten, twenty,
forty, sixty, eighty, until the whole pack of a hundred dogs howled
one infernal chorus together, making the air fairly tremble with
sound, as if from the heavy bass of a great organ. For fully a minute
heaven and earth seemed to be filled with yelling, shrieking fiends.
Then one by one they began gradually to drop off, the unearthly tumult
grew momentarily fainter and fainter, until at last it ended as it
began, in one long, inexpressibly melancholy wail, and all was still.
One or two of our men moved restlessly in their sleep, as if the
mournful howls had blended unpleasantly with their dreams; but no
one awoke, and a death-like silence again pervaded heaven and earth.
Suddenly the aurora shone out with increased brilliancy, and its
waving swords swept back and forth in great semicircles across the
dark starry sky, and lighted up the snowy steppe with transitory
flashes of coloured radiance, as if the gates of heaven were opening
and closing upon the dazzling brightness of the celestial city.
Presently it faded away again to a faint diffused glow in the north,
and one pale-green streamer, slender and bright as the spear of
Ithuriel, pushed slowly up toward the zenith until it touched with its
translucent point the jewelled belt of Orion; then it, too, faded and
vanished, and nothing but a bank of pale white mist on the northern
horizon showed the location of the celestial armory whence the arctic
spirits drew the gleaming swords and lances which they shook and
brandished nightly over the lonely Siberian steppes. Crawling back
into my bag as the aurora disappeared, I fell asleep, and did not wake
until near morning. With the first streak of dawn the camp began to
show signs of animation. The dogs crawled out of the deep holes which
their warm bodies had melted in the snow; the Cossacks poked their
heads out of their frosty fur coats, and whipped off with little
sticks the mass of frost which had accumulated around their
breathing-holes; a fire was built, tea boiled, and we crawled out of
our sleeping-bags to shiver around the fire and eat a hasty breakfast
of rye-bread, dried fish, and tea. In twenty minutes the dogs were
harnessed, sledges packed, and runners covered with ice, and one after
another we drove away at a brisk trot from the smoking fire, and began
another day's journey across the barren steppe.

In this monotonous routine of riding, camping, and sleeping on the
snow, day after day slowly passed until, on December 20th, we arrived
at the Settled Korak village of Shestakóva, near the head of Penzhinsk
Gulf. From this point our Gizhiga Cossacks were to return, and here we
were to wait until the expected sledges from Penzhina should arrive.
We lowered our bedding, pillows, camp-equipage, and provisions down
through the chimney hole of the largest _yurt_ in the small village,
arranged them as tastefully as possible on the wide wooden platform
which extended out from the wall on one side, and made ourselves as
comfortable as darkness, smoke, cold, and dirt would permit.

[Illustration: Korak Adzes]



CHAPTER XXIV


DISMAL SHELTER--ARRIVAL OF A COSSACK COURIER AMERICANS ON THE
ANADYR--ARCTIC FIREWOOD A SIBERIAN BLIZZARD LOST ON THE STEPPE

Our short stay at Shestakóva, while waiting for the Penzhina sledges,
was dismal and lonesome beyond expression. It began to storm furiously
about noon on the 20th, and the violent wind swept up such tremendous
clouds of snow from the great steppe north of the village, that the
whole earth was darkened as if by an eclipse, and the atmosphere, to a
height of a hundred feet from the ground, was literally packed with a
driving mist of white snowflakes. I ventured to the top of the chimney
hole once, but I was nearly blown over the edge of the _yurt_, and,
blinded and choked by snow, I hastily retreated down the chimney,
congratulating myself that I was not obliged to lie out all day on
some desolate plain, exposed to the fury of such a storm. To keep
out the snow, we were obliged to extinguish the fire and shut up the
chimney hole with a sort of wooden trap-door, so that we were left to
total darkness and a freezing atmosphere. We lighted candles and stuck
them against the black smoky logs above our heads with melted grease,
so that we could see to read; but the cold was so intense that we
were finally compelled to give up the idea of literary amusement, and
putting on fur coats and hoods, we crawled into our bags to try to
sleep away the day. Shut up in a dark half-underground dungeon, with
a temperature ten degrees below the freezing-point, we had no other
resource.

It is a mystery to me how human beings with any feeling at all can be
satisfied to live in such abominable, detestable houses as those of
the Settled Koraks. They have not one solitary redeeming feature.
They are entered through the chimney, lighted by the chimney, and
ventilated by the chimney; the sunshine falls into them only once a
year--in June; they are cold in winter, close and uncomfortable in
summer, and smoky all the time. They are pervaded by a smell of rancid
oil and decaying fish; their logs are black as jet and greasy with
smoke, and their earthen floors are an indescribable mixture of
reindeer hairs and filth dried and trodden hard. They have no
furniture except wooden bowls of seal oil, in which burn fragments of
moss, and black wooden troughs which are alternately used as dishes
and as seats. Sad is the lot of children born in such a place. Until
they are old enough to climb up the chimney pole they never see the
outside world.

The weather on the day after our arrival at Shestakóva was much
better, and our Cossack Meranef, who was on his way back to Tigil,
bade us good-bye, and started with two or three natives for Kamenoi.
Dodd and I managed to pass away the day by drinking tea eight or ten
times simply as an amusement, reading an odd volume of Cooper's novels
which we had picked up at Gizhiga, and strolling along the high bluffs
over the gulf with our rifles in search of foxes. Soon after dark,
just as we were drinking tea in final desperation for the seventh
time, our dogs who were tied around the _yurt_ set up a general howl,
and Yagór came sliding down the chimney in the most reckless and
disorderly manner, with the news that a Russian Cossack had just
arrived from Petropavlovsk, bringing letters for the Major. Dodd
sprang up in great excitement, kicked over the teakettle, dropped his
cup and saucer, and made a frantic rush for the chimney pole; but
before he could reach it we saw somebody's legs coming down into the
_yurt_, and in a moment a tall man in a spotted reindeerskin coat
appeared, crossed himself carefully two or three times, as if in
gratitude for his safe arrival, and then turned to us with the Russian
salutation, "Zdrastvuitia."--"At kooda?"--"Where from?" demanded
Dodd, quickly. "From Petropavlovsk with letters for the _Maiur_,"
(mai-oor'), was the reply; "three telegraph ships have been there,
and I am sent with important letters from the American _nachalnik_
[Footnote: Commander.]; I have been thirty-nine days and nights on the
road from Petropavlovsk." This was important news. Colonel Bulkley
had evidently touched at the southern end of Kamchatka on his return
from Bering Sea, and the letters brought by the courier would
undoubtedly explain why he had not landed the party at the mouth of
the Anadyr River, as he had intended. I felt a strong temptation to
open the letters; but not thinking that they could have any bearing
upon my movements, I finally concluded to send them on without a
moment's delay to Gizhiga, in the faint hope that the Major had not
yet left there for Okhotsk. In twenty minutes the Cossack was gone,
and we were left to form all sorts of wild conjectures as to the
contents of the letters, and the movements of the parties which
Colonel Bulkley had carried up to Bering Strait. I regretted a hundred
times that I had not opened the letters, and found out to a certainty
that the Anadyr River party had not been landed. But it was too late
now, and we could only hope that the courier would overtake the Major
before he had started from Gizhiga, and that the latter would send
somebody to us at Anadyrsk with the news.

[Illustration: INTERIOR OF A YURT OF THE SETTLED KORAKS]

There were no signs yet of the Penzhina sledges, and we spent another
night and another long dreary day in the smoky _yurt_ at Shestakóva,
waiting for transportation. Late in the evening of December 2d, Yagór,
who acted in the capacity of sentinel, came down the chimney with
another sensation. He had heard the howling of dogs in the direction
of Penzhina. We went up on the roof of the _yurt_ and listened for
several minutes, but hearing nothing but the wind, we concluded that
Yagór had either been mistaken, or that a pack of wolves had howled
in the valley east of the settlement. Yagór however was right; he had
heard dogs on the Penzhina road, and in less than ten minutes the
long-expected sledges drew up, amid general shouting and barking,
before our _yurt_. In the course of conversation with the new
arrivals, I thought I understood one of the Penzhina men to say
something about a party who had mysteriously appeared near the mouth
of the Anadyr River, and who were building a house there as if with
the intention of spending the winter. I did not yet understand Russian
very well, but I guessed at once that the long-talked-of Anadyr River
party had been landed, and springing up in considerable excitement, I
called Dodd to interpret. It seemed from all the information which
the Penzhina men could give us that a small party of Americans had
mysteriously appeared, early in the winter, near the mouth of the
Anadyr, and had commenced to build a house of driftwood and a few
boards which had been landed from the vessel in which they came. What
their intentions were, who they were, or how long they intended to
stay, no one knew, as the report came through bands of Wandering
Chukchis, who had never seen the Americans themselves, but who had
heard of them from others. The news had been passed along from one
encampment of Chukchis to another until it had finally reached
Penzhina, and had thus been brought on to us at Shestakóva, more than
five hundred miles from the place where the Americans were said to be.
We could hardly believe that Colonel Bulkley had landed an exploring
party in the desolate region south of Bering Strait, at the very
beginning of an arctic winter; but what could Americans be doing
there, if they did not belong to our expedition? It was not a place
which civilised men would be likely to select for a winter residence,
unless they had in view some very important object. The nearest
settlement--Anadyrsk--was almost two hundred and fifty miles distant;
the country along the lower Anadyr was said to be wholly destitute
of wood, and inhabited only by roving bands of Chukchis, and a
party landed there without an interpreter would have no means of
communicating even with these wild, lawless natives, or of obtaining
any means whatever of transportation. If there were any Americans
there, they were certainly in a very unpleasant situation. Dodd and I
talked the matter over until nearly midnight, and finally concluded
that upon our arrival at Anadyrsk we would make up a strong party of
experienced natives, take thirty days' provisions, and push through
to the Pacific Coast on dog-sledges in search of these mysterious
Americans. It would be an adventure just novel and hazardous enough
to be interesting, and if we succeeded in reaching the mouth of the
Anadyr in winter, we should do something never before accomplished and
never but once attempted. With this conclusion we crawled into our
fur bags and dreamed that we were starting for the Open Polar Sea in
search of Sir John Franklin.

On the morning of December 23d, as soon as it was light enough to see,
we loaded our tobacco, provisions, tea, sugar, and trading-goods upon
the Penzhina sledges, and started up the shallow bushy valley of the
Shestakóva River toward a mountainous ridge, a spur of the great
Stanavoi range, in which the stream had its source. We crossed the
mountain early in the afternoon, at a height of about a thousand feet,
and slid swiftly down its northern slope into a narrow valley, which
opened upon the great steppes which bordered the river Aklán. The
weather was clear and not very cold, but the snow in the valley was
deep and soft, and our progress was provokingly slow. We had hoped to
reach the Aklán by night, but the day was so short and the road so
bad that we travelled five hours after dark, and then had to stop ten
versts south of the river. We were rewarded, however, by seeing
two very fine mock moons, and by finding a magnificent patch of
trailing-pine, which furnished us with dry wood enough for a glorious
camp-fire. The curious tree or bush known to the Russians as
_kedrovnik_ (keh-drove'-nik), and rendered in the English translation
of Wrangell's Travels as "trailing cedar," is one of the most singular
productions of Siberia. I hardly know whether to call it a tree, a
bush, or a vine, for it partakes more or less of the characteristics
of all three, and yet does not look much like any of them. It
resembles as much as anything a dwarf pine tree, with a remarkably
gnarled, crooked, and contorted trunk, growing horizontally like a
neglected vine along the ground, and sending up perpendicular branches
through the snow. It has the needles and cones of the common white
pine, but it never stands erect like a tree, and grows in great
patches from a few yards to several acres in extent. A man might walk
over a dense growth of it in winter and yet see nothing but a few
bunches of sharp green needles, sticking up here and there through the
snow. It is found on the most desolate steppes and upon the rockiest
mountain-sides from the Okhotsk Sea to the Arctic Ocean, and seems to
grow most luxuriantly where the soil is most barren and the storms
most severe. On great ocean-like plains, destitute of all other
vegetation, this trailing-pine lurks beneath the snow, and covers
the ground in places with a perfect network of gnarled, twisted, and
interlocking trunks. For some reason it always seems to die when it
has attained a certain age, and wherever you find its green spiny
foliage you will also find dry white trunks as inflammable as tinder.
It furnishes almost the only firewood of the Wandering Koraks and
Chukchis, and without it many parts of north-eastern Siberia would
be absolutely uninhabitable by man. Scores of nights during our
explorations in Siberia, we should have been compelled to camp without
fire, water, or warm food, had not Nature provided everywhere an
abundance of trailing-pine, and stored it away under the snow for the
use of travellers.

[Illustration: DOG-TEAMS DESCENDING A STEEP MOUNTAIN SLOPE]

We left our camp in the valley early on the following morning, pushed
on across the large and heavily timbered river called the Aklán, and
entered upon the great steppe which stretches away from its northern
bank toward Anadyrsk. For two days we travelled over this barren
snowy plain, seeing no vegetation but stunted trees and patches of
trailing-pine along the banks of occasional streams, and no life
except one or two solitary ravens and a red fox. The bleak and dreary
landscape could have been described in two words--snow and sky. I had
come to Siberia with full confidence in the ultimate success of the
Russian-American Telegraph line, but as I penetrated deeper and deeper
into the country and saw its utter desolation I grew less and less
sanguine. Since leaving Gizhiga we had travelled nearly three hundred
versts, had found only four places where we could obtain poles, and
had passed only three settlements. Unless we could find a better
route than the one over which we had been, I feared that the Siberian
telegraph line would be a failure.

Up to this time we had been favoured with unusually fine weather; but
it was a season of the year when storms were of frequent occurrence,
and I was not surprised to be awakened Christmas night by the roaring
of the wind and the hissing sound of the snow as it swept through our
unprotected camp and buried up our dogs and sledges. We were having a
slight touch of a Siberian _purga_ (poor'-gah = blizzard). A fringe of
trees along the little stream on which we were camped sheltered us
in a measure from the storm, but out on the steppe it was evidently
blowing a gale. We rose as usual at daylight and made an attempt to
travel; but no sooner did we leave the cover of the trees than our
dogs became almost unmanageable, and, blinded and half suffocated
with flying snow, we were driven back again into the timber. It was
impossible to see thirty feet, and the wind blew with such fury that
our dogs would not face it. We massed our sledges together as a sort
of breastwork against the drifting snow, spread our fur bags down
behind them, crawled in, covered up our heads with deerskins and
blankets, and prepared for a long dismal siege. There is nothing so
thoroughly, hopelessly dreary and uncomfortable, as camping out upon a
Siberian steppe in a storm. The wind blows with such violence that a
tent cannot possibly be made to stand; the fire is half extinguished
by drifting snow, and fills the eyes with smoke and cinders when it
burns at all; conversation is impossible on account of the roaring
of the wind and the beating of the snow in one's face; bearskins,
pillows, and furs become stiff and icy with half-melted sleet, sledges
are buried up, and there remains nothing for the unhappy traveller to
do but crawl into his sleeping-bag, cover up his head, and shiver away
the long, dismal hours.

We lay out on the snow in this storm for two days, spending nearly all
the time in our fur bags and suffering severely from the cold during
the long, dark nights. On the 28th, about four o'clock in the morning,
the storm began to abate, and by six we had dug out our sledges and
were under way. There was a low spur of the Stanavoi Mountains about
ten versts north of our camp, and our men said that if we could get
across that before daylight we should probably have no more bad
weather until we reached Penzhina. Our dog-food was entirely
exhausted, and we must make the settlement within the next twenty-four
hours if possible. The snow had been blown hard by the wind, our dogs
were fresh from two days' rest, and before daylight we had crossed
the ridge and stopped in a little valley on the northern slope of
the mountain to drink tea. When compelled to travel all night, the
Siberian natives always make a practice of stopping just before
sunrise and allowing their dogs to get to sleep. They argue that if a
dog goes to sleep while it is yet dark, and wakes up in an hour and
finds the sun shining, he will suppose that he has had a full night's
rest and will travel all day without thinking of being tired. An
hour's stop, however, at any other time will be of no use whatever. As
soon as we thought we had deluded our dogs into the belief that they
had slept all night, we roused them up and started down the valley
toward a tributary of the Penzhina River, known as the Uskanova
(Oo-skan'-o-vah). The weather was clear and not very cold, and we all
enjoyed the pleasant change and the brief two hours of sunshine which
were vouchsafed us before the sun sank behind the white peaks of
Stanavoi. Just at dark we crossed the river Kondra, fifteen miles from
Penzhina, and in two hours more we were hopelessly lost on another
great level steppe, and broken up into two or three separate and
bewildered parties. I had fallen asleep soon after passing the Kondra,
and had not the slightest idea how we were progressing or whither we
were going, until Dodd shook me by the shoulder and said, "Kennan,
we're lost." Rather a startling announcement to wake a man with, but
as Dodd did not seem to be much concerned about it, I assured him that
I didn't care, and lying back on my pillow went to sleep again, fully
satisfied that my driver would find Penzhina sometime in the course of
the night.

Guided by the stars, Dodd, Gregorie, and I, with one other sledge
which remained with us, turned away to the eastward, and about nine
o'clock came upon the Penzhina River somewhere below the settlement.
We started up it on the ice, and had gone but a short distance when we
saw two or three sledges coming down the river. Surprised to find men
travelling away from the village at that hour of the night, we hailed
them with a "Halloo!"

"Halloo!"

"Vwe kooda yáydetia?"--"Where are you going?"

"We're going to Penzhina; who are you?"

"We're Gizhigintsi, also going to Penzhina; what you coming down the
river for?"

"We're trying to find the village, devil take it; we've been
travelling all night and can't find anything!"

Upon this Dodd burst into a loud laugh, and as the mysterious sledges
drew nearer we recognised in their drivers three of our own men who
had separated from us soon after dark, and who were now trying to
reach Penzhina by going down the river toward the Okhotsk Sea. We
could hardly convince them that the village did not lie in that
direction. They finally turned back with us, however, and some time
after midnight we drove into Penzhina, roused the sleeping inhabitants
with a series of unearthly yells, startled fifty or sixty dogs into a
howling protest against such untimely disturbance, and threw the whole
settlement into a general uproar.

In ten minutes we were seated on bearskins before a warm fire in
a cozy Russian house, drinking cup after cup of fragrant tea, and
talking over our night's adventures.

[Illustration: Ladle made of Caribou antler]

[Illustration: Woman's knife for cutting meat]



CHAPTER XXV


PENZHINA--POSTS FOR ELEVATED ROAD--FIFTY-THREE BELOW ZERO--TALKED
OUT--ASTRONOMICAL LECTURES--EATING PLANETS--THE HOUSE OF A PRIEST

The village of Penzhina is a little collection of log houses,
flat-topped _yurts_, and four-legged _balagáns,_ situated on the north
bank of the river which bears its name, about half-way between the
Okhotsk Sea and Anadyrsk. It is inhabited principally by _meshcháns_
(mesh-chans'), or free Russian peasants, but contains also in its
scanty population a few "Chuances" or aboriginal Siberian natives, who
were subjugated by the Russian Cossacks in the eighteenth century,
and who now speak the language of their conquerors and gain a scanty
subsistence by fishing and trading in furs. The town is sheltered on
the north by a very steep bluff about a hundred feet in height, which,
like all hills in the vicinity of Russian settlements, bears upon
its summit a Greek cross with three arms. The river opposite the
settlement is about a hundred yards in width, and its banks are
heavily timbered with birch, larch, poplar, willow, and aspen. Owing
to warm springs in its bed, it never entirely freezes over at this
point, and in a temperature of 40° below zero gives off dense clouds
of steam which hide the village from sight as effectually as a London
fog.

We remained at Penzhina three days, gathering information about the
surrounding country and engaging men to cut poles for our line. We
found the people to be cheerful, good-natured, and hospitable, and
disposed to do all in their power to further our plans; but of course
they had never heard of a telegraph, and could not imagine what we
were going to do with the poles which we were so anxious to have cut.
Some said that we intended to build a wooden road from Gizhiga to
Anadyrsk, so that it would be possible to travel back and forth in the
summer; others contended with some show of probability that two men,
even if they _were_ Americans, could not construct a wooden road, six
hundred versts long, and that our real object was to build some
sort of a huge house. When questioned as to the use of this immense
edifice, however, the advocates of the house theory were covered with
confusion, and could only insist upon the physical impossibility of
a road, and call upon their opponents to accept the house or suggest
something better. We succeeded in engaging sixteen able-bodied men,
however, to cut poles for a reasonable compensation, gave them the
required dimensions--twenty-one feet long and five inches in diameter
at the top--and instructed them to cut as many as possible, and pile
them up along the banks of the river.

I may as well mention here, that when I returned from Anadyrsk in
March I went to look at the poles, 500 in number, which the Penzhina
men had cut. I found, to my great astonishment, that there was hardly
one of them less than twelve inches in diameter at the top, and that
the majority were so heavy and unwieldy that a dozen men could not
move them. I told the natives that they would not do, and asked why
they had not cut smaller ones, as I had directed. They replied that
they supposed I wanted to build some kind of a road on the tops of
these poles, and they knew that poles only five inches in diameter
would not be strong enough to hold it up! They had accordingly cut
trees large enough to be used as pillars for a state-house. They still
lie there, buried in arctic snows; and I have no doubt that many years
hence, when Macaulay's New Zealander shall have finished sketching the
ruins of St. Paul's and shall have gone to Siberia to complete his
education, he will be entertained by his native drivers with stories
of how two crazy Americans once tried to build an elevated railroad
from the Okhotsk Sea to Bering Strait. I only hope that the New
Zealander will write a book, and confer upon the two crazy Americans
the honour and the immortality which their labours deserved, but which
the elevated railroad failed to give.

We left Penzhina on the 31st day of December for Anadyrsk. After
travelling all day, as usual, over a barren steppe, we camped for
the night near the foot of a white isolated peak called Nalgim, in a
temperature of 53° below zero. It was New Year's Eve; and as I sat by
the fire in my heaviest furs, covered from head to foot with frost,
I thought of the great change which a single year had made in my
surroundings. New Year's Eve, 1864, I had spent in Central America,
riding on a mule from Lake Nicaragua to the Pacific coast, through a
magnificent tropical forest. New Year's Eve, 1865, found me squatting
on a great snowy plain near the Arctic Circle, trying, in a
temperature of 53° below zero, to eat up my soup before it froze
solidly to the plate. Hardly could there have been a greater contrast.

Our camp near Mount Nalgim abounded in trailing-pine and we made a
fire which sent up a column of ruddy flame ten feet in height; but it
did not seem to have much influence upon the atmosphere. Our eyelids
froze together while we were drinking tea; our soup, taken hot from
the kettle, froze in our tin plates before we could possibly finish
eating it; and the breasts of our fur coats were covered with a white
rime, while we sat only a few feet from a huge blazing camp-fire. Tin
plates, knives, and spoons burned the bare hand when touched, almost
exactly as if they were red-hot; and water, spilled on a little piece
of board only fourteen inches from the fire, froze solid in less than
two minutes. The warm bodies of our dogs gave off clouds of steam; and
even the bare hand, wiped perfectly dry, exhaled a thin vapour
when exposed to the air. We had never before experienced so low a
temperature; but we suffered very little except from cold feet, and
Dodd declared that with a good fire and plenty of fat food he would
not be afraid to try fifteen degrees lower. The greatest cause of
suffering in Siberia is wind. Twenty degrees below zero, with a fresh
breeze, is very trying; and a gale of wind, with a temperature
of -40°, is almost unendurable. Intense cold of itself is not
particularly dangerous to life. A man who will eat a hearty supper of
dried fish and tallow, dress himself in a Siberian costume, and crawl
into a heavy fur bag, may spend a night out-doors in a temperature of
-70° without any serious danger; but if he is tired out, with long
travel, if his clothes are wet with perspiration, or if he has not
enough to eat, he may freeze to death with the thermometer at zero.
The most important rules for an arctic traveller are: to eat plenty of
fat food; to avoid over-exertion and night journeys; and never to
get into a profuse perspiration by violent exercise for the sake of
temporary warmth. I have seen Wandering Chukchis in a region destitute
of wood and in a dangerous temperature, travel all day with aching
feet rather than exhaust their strength by trying to warm them in
running. They would never exercise except when it was absolutely
necessary to keep from freezing. As a natural consequence, they were
almost as fresh at night as they had been in the morning, and if they
failed to find wood for a fire, or were compelled by some unforeseen
exigency to travel throughout the twenty-four hours, they had
the strength to do it. An inexperienced traveller under the same
circumstances, would have exhausted all his energy during the day in
trying to keep perfectly warm; and at night, wet with perspiration and
tired out by too much violent exercise, he would almost inevitably
have frozen to death.

For two hours after supper, Dodd and I sat by the fire, trying
experiments to see what the intense cold would do. About eight o'clock
the heavens became suddenly overcast with clouds, and in less than an
hour the thermometer had risen nearly thirty degrees. Congratulating
ourselves upon this fortunate change in the weather, we crawled into
our fur bags and slept away as much as we could of the long arctic
night.

Our life for the next few days was the same monotonous routine of
riding, camping, and sleeping with which we were already so familiar.
The country over which we passed was generally bleak, desolate, and
uninteresting; the weather was cold enough for discomfort, but not
enough so to make outdoor life dangerous or exciting; the days were
only two or three hours in length and the nights were interminable.
Going into camp early in the afternoon, when the sun disappeared, we
had before us about twenty hours of darkness, in which we must either
amuse ourselves in some way, or sleep. Twenty hours' sleep for any one
but a Rip Van Winkle was rather an over-dose, and during at least half
that time we could think of nothing better to do than sit around the
camp-fire on bearskins and talk. Ever since leaving Petropavlovsk,
talking had been our chief amusement; and although it had answered
very well for the first hundred nights or so, it was now becoming a
little monotonous and our mental resources were running decidedly low.
We could not think of a single subject about which we knew anything
that had not been talked over, criticised, and discussed to the very
bone. We had related to each other in detail the whole history of our
respective lives, together with the lives of all our ancestors as far
back as we knew anything about them. We had discussed in full every
known problem of Love, War, Science, Politics, and Religion, including
a great many that we knew nothing whatever about, and had finally been
reduced to such topics of conversation as the size of the army with
which Xerxes invaded Greece and the probable extent of the Noachian
deluge. As there was no possibility of arriving at any mutually
satisfactory conclusion with regard to either of these important
questions, the debate had been prolonged for twenty or thirty
consecutive nights and the questions finally left open for future
consideration. In cases of desperate emergency, when all other topics
of conversation failed, we knew that we could return to Xerxes and the
Flood; but these subjects had been dropped by the tacit consent of
both parties soon after leaving Gizhiga, and were held in reserve as a
"dernier ressort" for stormy nights in Korak _yurts_. One night as we
were encamped on a great steppe north of Shestakóva, the happy idea
occurred to me that I might pass away these long evenings out of
doors, by delivering a course of lectures to my native drivers upon
the wonders of modern science. It would amuse me and at the same time
instruct them--or at least I hoped it would, and I proceeded at
once to put the plan into execution. I turned my attention first to
astronomy. Camping out on the open steppe, with no roof above except
the starry sky, I had every facility for the illustration of my
subject, and night after night as we travelled northward I might have
been seen in the centre of a group of eager natives, whose swarthy
faces were lighted up by the red blaze of the camp-fire, and who
listened with childish curiosity while I explained the phenomena of
the seasons, the revolution of the planets around the sun, and the
causes of a lunar eclipse. I was compelled, like John Phoenix, to
manufacture my own orrery, and I did it with a lump of frozen, tallow
to represent the earth, a chunk of black bread for the moon, and small
pieces of dried meat for the lesser planets. The resemblance to the
heavenly bodies was not, I must confess, very striking; but by making
believe pretty hard we managed to get along. A spectator would have
been amused could he have seen with what grave solemnity I circulated
the bread and tallow in their respective orbits, and have heard the
long-drawn exclamations of astonishment from the natives as I brought
the bread into eclipse behind the lump of tallow. My first lecture
would have been a grand success if my native audience had only been
able to understand the representative and symbolical character of
the bread and tallow. The great trouble was that their imaginative
faculties were weak. They could not be made to see that bread stood
for the moon and tallow-for the earth, but persisted in regarding them
as so many terrestrial products having an intrinsic value of their
own. They accordingly melted up the earth to drink, devoured the
moon whole, and wanted another lecture immediately. I endeavoured
to explain to them that these lectures were intended to be
_as_tronomical, not _gas_tronomical, and that eating and drinking
up the heavenly bodies in this reckless way was very improper.
Astronomical science I assured them did not recognise any such
eclipses as those produced by swallowing the planets, and however
satisfactory such a course might be to them, it was very demoralising
to my orrery. Remonstrances had very little effect, and I was
compelled to provide a new sun, moon, and earth for every, lecture. It
soon became evident to me that these astronomical feasts were becoming
altogether too popular, for my audience thought nothing of eating up
a whole solar system every night, and planetary material was becoming
scarce. I was finally compelled, therefore, to use stones and
snowballs to represent celestial bodies, instead of bread and tallow,
and from that time the interest in astronomical phenomena gradually
abated and the popularity of my lectures steadily declined until I was
left without a single hearer.

The short winter day of three hours had long since closed and the
night was far advanced when after twenty-three days of rough travel
we drew near our final destination--the _ultima Thule_ of Russian
civilisation. I was lying on my sledge nearly buried in heavy furs and
half asleep, when the distant barking of dogs announced our approach
to the village of Anadyrsk. I made a hurried attempt to change my
thick fur _torbassa_ and overstockings for American boots, but was
surprised in the very act by the drawing up of my sledge before the
house of the Russian priest, where we intended to stop until we could
make arrangements for a house of our own.

A crowd of curious spectators had gathered about the door to see the
wonderful Amerikanse about whom they had heard, and prominent in the
centre of the fur-clad group stood the priest, with long flowing hair
and beard, dressed in a voluminous black robe, and holding above his
head a long tallow candle which flared wildly in the cold night air.
As soon as I could disencumber my feet of my overstockings I alighted
from my sledge, amid profound bows and "zdrastvuitias" from the crowd,
and received a hearty welcome from the patriarchal priest. Three weeks
roughing it in the wilderness had not, I fancy, improved my personal
appearance, and my costume would have excited a sensation anywhere
except in Siberia. My face, which was not over clean, was darkened by
three weeks' growth of beard; my hair was in confusion and hung in
long ragged locks over my forehead, and the fringe of shaggy black
bearskin around my face gave me a peculiarly wild and savage
expression of countenance. The American boots which I had hastily
drawn on as we entered the village were all that indicated any
previous acquaintance with civilisation. Replying to the respectful
salutations of the Chuances, Yukagirs, and Russian Cossacks who in
yellow fur hoods and potted deerskin coats crowded about the door, I
followed the priest into the house. It was the second dwelling worthy
the name of house which I had entered in twenty-two days, and after
the smoky Korak _yurts_ of Kuil, Mikina, and Shestakóva, it seemed
to me to be a perfect palace. The floor was carpeted with soft, dark
deerskins in which one's feet sank deeply at every step; a blazing
fire burned in a neat fireplace in one corner, and flooded the room
with cheerful light; the tables were covered with bright American
table-cloths; a tiny gilt taper was lighted before a massive gilt
shrine opposite the door; the windows were of glass instead of the
slabs of ice and the smoky fish bladders to which I had become
accustomed; a few illustrated newspapers lay on a stand in one corner,
and everything in the house was arranged with a taste and a view
to comfort which were as welcome to a tired traveller as they were
unexpected in this land of desolate steppes and uncivilised people.
Dodd, who was driving his own sledge, had not yet arrived; but from
the door we could hear a voice in the adjoining forest singing "Won't
I be glad when I get out of the wilderness, out o' the wilderness, out
o' the wilderness," the musician being entirely unconscious that he
was near the village, or that his melodiously expressed desire to "get
out o' the wilderness" was overheard by any one else. My Russian
was not extensive or accurate enough to enable me to converse very
satisfactorily with the priest, and I was heartily glad when Dodd
_got_ out of the wilderness, and appeared to relieve my embarrassment.
He didn't look much better than I did; that was one comfort. I drew
mental comparisons as soon as he entered the room and convinced myself
that one looked as much like a Korak as the other, and that neither
could claim precedence in point of civilisation on account of superior
elegance of dress. We shook hands with the priest's wife--a pale
slender lady with light hair and dark eyes,--made the acquaintance of
two or three pretty little children, who fled from us in affright as
soon as they were released, and finally seated ourselves at the table
to drink tea.

Our host's cordial manner soon put us at our ease, and in ten minutes
Dodd was rattling off fluently a highly coloured account of our
adventures and sufferings, laughing, joking, and drinking vodka with
the priest, as unceremoniously as if he had known him for ten years
instead of as many minutes. That was a peculiar gift of Dodd's, which
I often used to envy. In five minutes, with the assistance of a little
vodka, he would break down the ceremonious reserve of the severest
old patriarch in the whole Greek Church, and completely carry him by
storm; while I could only sit by and smile feebly, without being able
to say a word. Great is "the gift o' gab."

After an excellent supper of _shchi_ (shchee) or cabbage-soup, fried
cutlets, white bread and butter, we spread our bearskins down on the
floor, undressed ourselves for the second time in three weeks,
and went to bed. The sensation of sleeping without furs, and with
uncovered heads, was so strange, that for a long time we lay awake,
watching the red flickering firelight on the wall, and enjoying
the delicious warmth of soft, fleecy blankets, and the luxury of
unconfined limbs and bare feet.



CHAPTER XXVI


ANADYRSK--AN ARCTIC OUTPOST--SEVERE CLIMATE CHRISTMAS SERVICES AND
CAROLS--A SIBERIAN BALL--MUSIC AND REFRESHMENTS--EXCITED DANCING
HOLIDAY AMUSEMENTS

The four little Russian and native villages, just south of the Arctic
Circle, which are collectively known as Anadyrsk, form the last link
in the great chain of settlements which extends in one almost unbroken
line from the Ural Mountains to Bering Strait. Owing to their
peculiarly isolated situation, and the difficulties and hardships of
travel during the only season in which they are accessible, they had
never, previous to our arrival, been visited by any foreigner, with
the single exception of a Swedish officer in the Russian service,
who led an exploring party from Anadyrsk toward Bering Strait in the
winter of 1859-60. Cut off, during half the year, from all the rest of
the world, and visited only at long intervals by a few half-civilised
traders, this little quadruple village was almost as independent and
self-sustained as if it were situated on an island in the midst of the
Arctic Ocean. Even its existence, to those who had no dealings with
it, was a matter of question. It was founded early in the eighteenth
century, by a band of roving, adventurous Cossacks, who, having
conquered nearly all the rest of Siberia, pushed through the mountains
from Kolyma to the Anadyr, drove out the Chukchis, who resisted their
advance, and established a military post on the river, a few versts
above the site of the present settlement. A desultory warfare then
began between the Chukchis and the Russian invaders, which lasted,
with varying success, for many years. During a considerable part of
the time Anadyrsk was garrisoned by a force of six hundred men and
a battery of artillery; but after the discovery and settlement of
Kamchatka it sank into comparative unimportance, the troops were
mostly withdrawn, and it was finally captured by the Chukchis and
burned. During the war which resulted in the destruction of Anadyrsk,
two native tribes, Chuances and Yukagirs, who had taken sides with the
Russians, were almost annihilated by the Chukchis, and were never able
afterward to regain their distinct tribal individuality. The few
who were left lost all their reindeer and camp-equipage, and were
compelled to settle down with their Russian allies and gain a
livelihood by hunting and fishing. They have gradually adopted Russian
customs and lost all their distinctive traits of character; and in a
few years not a single living soul will speak the languages of those
once powerful tribes. By the Russians, Chuances, and Yukagirs,
Anadyrsk was finally rebuilt, and became in time a trading-post of
considerable importance. Tobacco, which had been introduced by the
Russians, soon acquired great popularity with the Chukchis; and
for the sake of obtaining this highly prized luxury they ceased
hostilities, and began making yearly visits to Anadyrsk for the
purpose of trade. They never entirely lost, however, a certain feeling
of enmity toward the Russians who had invaded their territory, and for
many years would have no dealings with them except at the end of a
spear. They would hang a bundle of furs or a choice walrus tooth upon
the sharp polished blade of a long Chukchi lance, and if a Russian
trader chose to take it off and suspend in its place a fair equivalent
in the shape of tobacco, well and good; if not, there was no trade.
This plan guaranteed absolute security against fraud, for there was
not a Russian in all Siberia who dared to cheat one of these fierce
savages, with the blade of a long lance ten inches from his breast
bone. Honesty was emphatically the best policy, and the moral suasion
of a Chukchi spear developed the most disinterested benevolence in the
breast of the man who stood at the sharp end. The trade which was thus
established still continues to be a source of considerable profit to
the inhabitants of Anadyrsk, and to the Russian merchants who come
there every year from Gizhiga.

[Illustration: CHUKCHIS ASSEMBLING AT ANADYRSK FOR THE WINTER FAIR]

The four small villages which compose the settlement, and which are
distinctively known as "Pokorukof," "Osolkin," "Markova," and "The
Crepast," have altogether a population of perhaps two hundred souls.
The central village, called Markova, is the residence of the priest
and boasts a small rudely built church, but in winter it is a dreary
place. Its small log houses have no windows other than thick slabs of
ice cut from the river; many of them are sunken in the ground for the
sake of greater warmth, and all are more or less buried in snow. A
dense forest of larch, poplar, and aspen surrounds the town, so that
the traveller coming from Gizhiga sometimes has to hunt for it a whole
day, and if he be not familiar with the net-work of channels into
which the Anadyr River is here divided, he may not find it at all.
The inhabitants of all four settlements divide their time in summer
between fishing, and hunting the wild reindeer which make annual
migrations across the river in immense herds. In winter they are
generally absent with their sledges, visiting and trading with bands
of Wandering Chukchis, going with merchandise to the great annual
fair at Kolyma, and hiring their services to the Russian traders from
Gizhiga. The Anadyr River, in the vicinity of the village and for a
distance of seventy-five miles above, is densely wooded with trees
from eighteen to twenty-four inches in diameter, although the latitude
of the upper portion of it is 66° N. The climate is very severe;
meteorological observations which we made at Markova in February,
1867, showed that on sixteen days in that month the thermometer went
to -40°, on eight days it went below -50°, five days below -60°, and
once to -68°. This was the lowest temperature we ever experienced
in Siberia. The changes from intense cold to comparative warmth are
sometimes very rapid. On February 18th, at 9 A.M., the thermometer
stood at -52°, but in twenty-seven hours it had risen seventy-three
degrees and stood at +21°. On the 21st it marked +3° and on the 22d
-49°, an equally rapid change in the other direction. Notwithstanding
the climate, however, Anadyrsk is as pleasant a place to live as are
nine tenths of the Russian settlements in north-eastern Siberia, and
we enjoyed the novelty of our life there in the winter of 1866 as much
as we had enjoyed any part of our previous Siberian experience.

The day which succeeded our arrival we spent in resting and making
ourselves as presentable as possible with the limited resources
afforded by our sealskin trunks.

Thursday, January 6th, N.S. was the Russian Christmas, and we all rose
about four hours before daylight to attend an early service in the
church. Everybody in the house was up; a fire burned brightly in the
fireplace; gilded tapers were lighted before all the holy pictures and
shrines in our room, and the air was fragrant with incense. Out of
doors there was not yet a sign of daybreak. The Pleiades were low down
in the west, the great constellation of Orion had begun to sink, and a
faint aurora was streaming up over the tree-tops north of the village.
From every chimney rose a column of smoke and sparks, which showed
that the inhabitants were all astir. We walked over to the little log
church as quickly as possible, but the service had already commenced
when we entered and silently took our places in the crowd of bowing
worshippers. The sides of the room were lined with pictures of
patriarchs and Russian saints, before which were burning long wax
candles wound spirally with strips of gilded paper. Clouds of blue
fragrant incense rolled up toward the roof from swinging censers,
and the deep intonation of the gorgeously attired priest contrasted
strangely with the high soprano chanting of the choir. The service of
the Greek Church is more impressive, if possible, than that of the
Romish; but as it is conducted in the old Slavonic language, it is
almost wholly unintelligible. The priest is occupied, most of the
time, in gabbling rapid prayers which nobody can understand; swinging
a censer, bowing, crossing himself, and kissing a huge Bible, which
I should think would weigh thirty pounds. The administration of the
sacrament and the ceremonies attending the transubstantiation of the
bread and wine are made very effective. The most beautiful feature in
the whole service of the Greco-Russian Church is the music. No one can
listen to it without emotion, even in a little log chapel far away in
the interior of Siberia. Rude as it may be in execution, it breathes
the very spirit of devotion; and I have often stood through a long
service of two or three hours, for the sake of hearing a few chanted
psalms and prayers. Even the tedious, rapid, and mixed-up jabbering
of the priest is relieved at short intervals by the varied and
beautifully modulated "Gospodi pameelui" [God, have mercy!] and "Padai
Gospodin" [Grant, O Lord!] of the choir. The congregation stands
throughout even the longest service, and seems to be wholly absorbed
in devotion. All cross themselves and bow incessantly in response to
the words of the priest, and not unfrequently prostrate themselves
entirely, and reverently press their foreheads and lips to the floor.
To a spectator this seems very curious. One moment he is surrounded
by a crowd of fur-clad natives and Cossacks, who seem to be listening
quietly to the service; then suddenly the whole congregation goes down
upon the floor, like a platoon of infantry under the fire of a masked
battery, and he is left standing alone in the midst of nearly a
hundred prostrate forms. At the conclusion of the Christmas morning
service the choir burst forth into a jubilant hymn, to express the
joy of the angels over the Saviour's birth; and amid the discordant
jangling of a chime of bells, which hung in a little log tower at the
door, Dodd and I made our way out of the church, and returned to the
house to drink tea. I had just finished my last cup and lighted a
cigarette, when the door suddenly opened, and half a dozen men, with
grave, impassive countenances, marched in in single file, stopped a
few paces from the holy pictures in the corner, crossed themselves
devoutly in unison, and began to sing a simple but sweet Russian
melody, beginning with the words, "Christ is born." Not expecting to
hear Christmas carols in a little Siberian settlement on the Arctic
Circle, I was taken completely by surprise, and could only stare in
amazement--first at Dodd, to see what he thought about it, and then at
the singers. The latter, in their musical ecstasy, seemed entirely to
ignore our presence, and not until they had finished did they turn to
us, shake hands, and wish us a merry Christmas. Dodd gave each of them
a few kopecks, and with repeated wishes of merry Christmas, long life,
and much happiness to our "High Excellencies," the men withdrew to
visit in turn the other houses of the village. One band of singers
came after another, until at daylight all the younger portion of the
population had visited our house, and received our kopecks. Some of
the smaller boys, more intent upon the acquisition of coppers than
they were upon the solemnity of the ceremony, rather marred its effect
by closing up their hymn with "Christ is born, gim'me some money!"
but most of them behaved with the utmost propriety, and left us
greatly pleased with a custom so beautiful and appropriate. At sunrise
all the tapers were extinguished, the people donned their gayest
apparel, and the whole village gave itself up to the unrestrained
enjoyment of a grand holiday. Bells jangled incessantly from the
church tower; dog-sledges, loaded with girls, went dashing about the
streets, capsising into snow-drifts and rushing furiously down hills
amid shouts of laughter; women in gay flowery calico dresses, with
their hair tied up in crimson silk handkerchiefs, walked from house to
house, paying visits of congratulation and talking over the arrival of
the distinguished American officers; crowds of men played football
on the snow, and the whole settlement presented an animated, lively
appearance.

On the evening of the third day after Christmas, the priest gave in
our honour a grand Siberian ball, to which all the inhabitants of
the four villages were invited, and for which the most elaborate
preparations were made. A ball at the house of a priest on Sunday
night struck me as implying a good deal of inconsistency and I
hesitated about sanctioning so plain a violation of the fourth
commandment. Dodd, however, proved to me in the most conclusive manner
that, owing to difference in time, it was Saturday in America and not
Sunday at all; that our friends at that very moment were engaged in
business or pleasure and that our happening to be on the other side
of the world was no reason why we should not do what our antipodal
friends were doing at exactly the same time. I was conscious that
this reasoning was sophistical, but Dodd mixed me up so with his
"longitude," "Greenwich time," "Bowditch's _Navigator_," "Russian
Sundays" and "American Sundays," that I was hopelessly bewildered, and
could not have told for my life whether it was today in America or
yesterday, or when a Siberian Sunday did begin. I finally concluded
that as the Russians kept Saturday night, and began another week at
sunset on the Sabbath, a dance would perhaps be sufficiently innocent
for that evening. According to Siberian ideas of propriety it was just
the thing.

A partition was removed in our house, the floor made bare, the room
brilliantly illuminated with candles stuck against the wall with
melted grease, benches placed around three sides of the house for the
ladies, and about five o'clock the pleasure-seekers began to assemble.
Rather an early hour perhaps for a ball, but it seemed a very long
time after dark. The crowd which soon gathered numbered about forty,
the men being all dressed in heavy fur _kukhlánkas,_ fur trousers,
and fur boots, and the ladies in thin white muslin and flowery calico
prints. The costumes of the respective sexes did not seem to harmonise
very well, one being light and airy enough for an African summer,
while the other seemed suitable for an arctic expedition in search of
Sir John Franklin. However, the general effect was very picturesque.
The orchestra which was to furnish the music consisted of two rudely
made violins, two _ballalaikas_ (bal-la-lai'-kahs) or triangular
native guitars with two strings each, and a huge comb prepared with
a piece of paper in a manner familiar to all boys. Feeling a little
curiosity to see how an affair of this kind would be managed upon
Siberian principles of etiquette, I sat quietly in a sheltered corner
and watched the proceedings. The ladies, as fast as they arrived,
seated themselves in a solemn row along a wooden bench at one end
of the room, and the men stood up in a dense throng at the other.
Everybody was preternaturally sober. No one smiled, no one said
anything; and the silence was unbroken save by an occasional rasping
sound from an asthmatic fiddle in the orchestra, or a melancholy toot,
toot, as one of the musicians tuned his comb. If this was to be the
nature of the entertainment, I could not see any impropriety in having
it on Sunday. It was as mournfully suggestive as a funeral. Little did
I know, however, the capabilities of excitement which were concealed
under the sober exteriors of those natives. In a few moments a little
stir around the door announced refreshments, and a young Chuancee
brought round and handed to me a huge wooden bowl, holding about four
quarts of raw frozen cranberries. I thought it could not be possible
that I was expected to eat four quarts of frozen cranberries! but
I took a spoonful or two, and looked to Dodd for instructions. He
motioned to me to pass them along, and as they tasted like acidulated
hailstones, and gave me a toothache, I was very glad to do so.

The next course consisted of another wooden bowl, filled with what
seemed to be white pine shavings, and I looked at it in perfect
astonishment. Frozen cranberries and pine shavings were the most
extraordinary refreshments that I had ever seen--even in Siberia; but
I prided myself upon my ability to eat almost anything, and if the
natives could stand cranberries and shavings I knew I could. What
seemed to be white pine shavings I found upon trial to be thin
shavings of raw frozen fish--a great delicacy among the Siberians, and
one with which, under the name of "struganini" (stroo-gan-nee'-nee),
I afterward became very familiar. I succeeded in disposing of these
fish-shavings without any more serious result than an aggravation of
my toothache. They were followed by white bread and butter, cranberry
tarts, and cups of boiling hot tea, with which the supper finally
ended. We were then supposed to be prepared for the labours of the
evening; and after a good deal of preliminary scraping and tuning the
orchestra struck up a lively Russian dance called "kapalooshka." The
heads and right legs of the musicians all beat time emphatically to
the music, the man with the comb blew himself red in the face, and the
whole assembly began to sing. In a moment one of the men, clad in a
spotted deerskin coat and buckskin trousers, sprang into the centre
of the room and bowed low to a lady who sat upon one end of a long
crowded bench. The lady rose with a graceful courtesy and they began
a sort of half dance half pantomime about the room, advancing and
retiring in perfect time to the music, crossing over and whirling
swiftly around, the man apparently making love to the lady, and the
lady repulsing all his advances, turning away and hiding her face
with her handkerchief. After a few moments of this dumb show the lady
retired and another took her place; the music doubled its energy
and rapidity, the dancers began the execution of a tremendous
"break-down," and shrill exciting cries of "Heekh! Heekh! Heekh!
Vallai-i-i! Ne fstavai-i-i!" resounded from all parts of the room,
together with terrific tootings from the comb and the beating of half
a hundred feet on the bare planks. My blood began to dance in my veins
with the contagious excitement. Suddenly the man dropped down upon his
stomach on the floor at the feet of his partner, and began jumping
around like a huge broken-legged grasshopper upon his elbows and the
ends of his toes! This extraordinary feat brought down the house in
the wildest enthusiasm, and the uproar of shouting and singing drowned
all the instruments except the comb, which still droned away like a
Scottish bagpipe in its last agonies! Such singing, such dancing,
and such excitement, I had never before witnessed. It swept away my
self-possession like the blast of a trumpet sounding a charge. At
last, the man, after dancing successively with all the ladies in
the room, stopped apparently exhausted--and I have no doubt that he
was--and with the perspiration rolling in streams down his face, went
in search of some frozen cranberries to refresh himself after his
violent exertion. To this dance, which is called the "Russki"
(roo'-ski), succeeded another known as the "Cossack waltz," in which
Dodd to my great astonishment promptly joined. I knew I could dance
anything he could; so, inviting a lady in red and blue calico to
participate, I took my place on the floor. The excitement was
perfectly indescribable, when the two Americans began revolving
swiftly around the room; the musicians became almost frantic in their
endeavours to play faster, the man with the comb blew himself into
a fit of coughing and had to sit down, and a regular tramp, tramp,
tramp, from fifty or sixty feet, marked time to the music, together
with encouraging shouts of "Vallai! Amerikansi! Heekh! Heekh! Heekh!"
and the tumultuous singing of the whole crazy multitude. The pitch of
excitement to which these natives work themselves up in the course
of these dances is almost incredible, and it has a wonderfully
inspiriting effect even upon a foreigner. Had I not been temporarily
insane with unnatural enthusiasm, I should never have made myself
ridiculous by attempting to dance that Cossack waltz. It is regarded
as a great breach of etiquette in Siberia, after once getting upon
the floor, to sit down until you have danced, or at least offered
to dance, with all the ladies in the room; and if they are at all
numerous, it is a very fatiguing sort of amusement. By the time
Dodd and I finished we were ready to rush out-doors, sit down on a
snow-bank, and eat frozen fish and cranberry hailstones by the quart.
Our whole physical system seemed melting with fervent heat.

As an illustration of the esteem with which Americans are regarded in
that benighted settlement of Anadyrsk, I will just mention that in the
course of my Cossack waltz I stepped accidentally with my heavy boot
upon the foot of a Russian peasant. I noticed that his face wore for
a moment an expression of intense pain, and as soon as the dance
was over, I went to him, with Dodd as interpreter, to apologise. He
interrupted me with a profusion of bows, protested that it didn't hurt
him _at all_, and declared, with an emphasis which testified to his
sincerity, that he regarded it as an honour to have his toe stepped on
by an American! I had never before realised what a proud and enviable
distinction I enjoyed in being a native of our highly favoured
country! I could stalk abroad into foreign lands with a reckless
disregard for everybody's toes, and the full assurance that the more
toes I stepped on the more honour I would confer upon benighted
foreigners, and the more credit I would reflect upon my own benevolent
disposition! This was clearly the place for unappreciated Americans to
come to; and if any young man finds that his merits are not properly
recognised at home, I advise him in all seriousness to go to Siberia,
where the natives will regard it as an honour to have him step on
their toes.

Dances interspersed with curious native games and frequent
refreshments of frozen cranberries prolonged the entertainment until
two o'clock, when it finally broke up, having lasted nine hours. I
have described somewhat in detail this dancing party because it is
the principal amusement of the semi-civilised inhabitants of all the
Russian settlements in Siberia, and shows better than anything else
the careless, happy disposition of the people.

Throughout the holidays the whole population did nothing but pay
visits, give tea parties, and amuse themselves with dancing,
sleigh-riding, and playing ball. Every evening between Christmas and
New Year, bands of masqueraders dressed in fantastic costumes went
around with music to all the houses in the village and treated the
inmates to songs and dances. The inhabitants of these little
Russian settlements in north-eastern Siberia are the most careless,
warmhearted, hospitable people in the world, and their social life,
rude as it is, partakes of all these characteristics. There is no
ceremony or affectation, no "putting on of style" by any particular
class. All mingle unreservedly together and treat each other with the
most affectionate cordiality, the men often kissing one another when
they meet and part, as if they were brothers. Their isolation from all
the rest of the world seems to have bound them together with ties of
mutual sympathy and dependence, and banished all feelings of envy,
jealousy, and petty selfishness. During our stay with the priest we
were treated with the most thoughtful consideration and kindness, and
his small store of luxuries, such as flour, sugar, and butter, was
spent lavishly in providing for our table. As long as it lasted he was
glad to share it with us, and never hinted at compensation or seemed
to think that he was doing any more than hospitality required.

[Illustration: ANADYRSK IN WINTER]

With the first ten days of our stay at Anadyrsk are connected some of
the pleasantest recollections of our Siberian life.

[Illustration: Woman's Mittens of Elk skin]



CHAPTER XXVII


NEWS FROM THE ANADYR PARTY--PLAN FOR ITS RELIEF--THE STORY OF A
STOVE-PIPE--START FOR THE SEACOAST

Immediately after our arrival at Anadyrsk we I had made inquiries as
to the party of Americans who were said to be living somewhere near
the mouth of the Anadyr River; but we were not able to get any
information in addition to that we already possessed. Wandering
Chukchis had brought the news to the settlement that a small band of
white men had been landed on the coast south of Bering Strait late in
the fall, from a "fire-ship" or steamer; that they had dug a sort of
cellar in the ground, covered it over with bushes and boards, and gone
into winter quarters. Who they were, what they had come for, and how
long they intended to stay, were questions which now agitated the
whole Chukchi nation, but which no one could answer. Their little
subterranean hut had been entirely buried, the natives said, by the
drifting snows of winter, and nothing but a curious iron tube out of
which came smoke and sparks showed where the white men lived. This
curious iron tube which so puzzled the Chukchis we at once supposed to
be a stove-pipe, and it furnished the strongest possible confirmation
of the truth of the story. No Siberian native could ever have invented
the idea of a stove-pipe--somebody must have seen one; and this fact
alone convinced us beyond a doubt that there were Americans living
somewhere on the coast of Bering Sea--probably an exploring party
landed by Colonel Bulkley to cooperate with us.

The instructions which the Major gave me when we left Gizhiga did not
provide for any such contingency as the landing of this party near
Bering Strait, because at that time we had abandoned all hope of such
cooperation and expected to explore the country by our own unaided
exertions. The engineer-in-chief had promised faithfully, when we
sailed from San Francisco, that, if he should leave a party of men at
the mouth of the Anadyr River at all, he would leave them there early
in the season with a large whale-boat, so that they could ascend the
river to a settlement before the opening of winter. When we met the
Anadyrsk people, therefore, at Gizhiga, late in November, and learned
that nothing had been heard of any such party, we of course concluded
that for some reason the plan which Colonel Bulkley proposed had been
given up. No one dreamed that he would leave a mere handful of men
in the desolate region south of Bering Strait at the beginning of an
arctic winter, without any means whatever of transportation, without
any shelter, surrounded by fierce tribes of lawless natives, and
distant more than two hundred miles from the nearest civilised human
being. What was such an unfortunate party to do? They could only live
there in inactivity until they starved, were murdered, or were brought
away by an expedition sent to their rescue from the interior. Such was
the situation when Dodd and I arrived at Anadyrsk. Our orders were to
leave the Anadyr River unexplored until another season; but we knew
that as soon as the Major should receive the letters which had passed
through our hands at Shestakóva he would learn that a party had been
landed south of Bering Strait, and would send us orders by special
courier to go in search of it and bring it to Anadyrsk, where it would
be of some use. We therefore determined to anticipate these orders and
hunt up that American stove-pipe upon our own responsibility.

Our situation, however, was a very peculiar one. We had no means of
finding out where we were ourselves, or where the American party was.
We had not been furnished with instruments for making astronomical
observations, could not determine with any kind of accuracy our
latitude and longitude, and did not know whether we were two hundred
miles from the Pacific coast or five hundred. According to the report
of Lieutenant Phillippeus, who had partially explored the Anadyr
River, it was about a thousand versts from the settlement to Anadyr
Bay, while according to the dead reckoning which we had kept from
Gizhiga it could not be over four hundred. The real distance was to us
a question of vital importance, because we should be obliged to carry
dog-food for the whole trip, and if it was anything like a thousand
versts we should in all probability lose our dogs by starvation before
we could possibly get back. Besides this, when we finally reached
Anadyr Bay, if we ever did, we should have no means of finding out
where the Americans were; and unless we happened to meet a band of
Chukchis who had seen them, we might wander over those desolate plains
for a month without coming across the stove-pipe, which was the only
external sign of their subterranean habitation. It would be far worse
than the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack.

When we made known to the people of Anadyrsk our intention of going to
the Pacific coast, and called for volunteers to make up a party,
we met with the most discouraging opposition. The natives declared
unanimously that such a journey was impossible, that it had never been
accomplished, that the lower Anadyr was swept by terrible storms and
perfectly destitute of wood, that the cold there was always intense,
and that we should inevitably starve to death, freeze to death,
or lose all our dogs. They quoted the experience of Lieutenant
Phillippeus, who had narrowly escaped starvation in the same region in
1860, and said that while he started in the spring we proposed to
go in midwinter, when the cold was most intense and the storms most
severe. Such an adventure they declared was almost certain to end in
disaster. Our Cossack Gregorie, a brave and trustworthy old man, had
been Lieutenant Phillippeus's guide and Chukchi interpreter in 1860,
had been down the river about a hundred and fifty miles in winter,
and knew something about it. We accordingly dismissed the natives and
talked the matter over with him. He said that as far as he had ever
gone towards Anadyr Bay there was trailing-pine enough along the banks
of the river to supply us with firewood, and that the country was no
worse than much of that over which we had already travelled between
Gizhiga and Anadyrsk. He said that he was entirely willing to
undertake the trip, and would go with his own team of dogs wherever we
would lead the way. The priest also, who had been down the river in
summer, believed the journey to be practicable, and said he would
go himself if he could do any good. Upon the strength of this
encouragement we gave the natives our final decision, showed them
the letter which we brought from the Russian governor at Gizhiga
authorising us to demand men and sledges for all kinds of service, and
told them that if they still refused to go we would send a special
messenger to Gizhiga and report their disobedience. This threat
and the example of our Cossack Gregorie, who was known to be an
experienced guide from the Okhotsk Sea to the Arctic Ocean, finally
had the desired effect. Eleven men agreed to go, and we began at once
to collect dog-food and provisions for an early start. We had as yet
only the vaguest, most indefinite information with regard to the
situation of the American party, and we determined to wait a few days
until a Cossack named Kozhevin (ko-zhay'-vin), who had gone to visit a
band of Wandering Chukchis, should return. The priest was sure that
he would bring later and more trustworthy intelligence, because the
wandering natives throughout the whole country knew of the arrival
of the mysterious white men, and would probably tell Kozhevin
approximately where they were. In the meantime we made some additions
to our heavy suits of furs, prepared masks of squirrelskin to be worn
over the face in extremely low temperatures, and set all the women in
the village at work upon a large fur tent.

On Saturday, Jan. 20th, N.S., Kozhevin returned from his visit to the
Chukchis north of Anadyrsk, bringing as we expected later and fuller
particulars with regard to the party of exiled Americans south
of Bering Strait. It consisted, according to the best Chukchi
intelligence, of only five men, and was located on or near the Anadyr
River, about one day's journey above its mouth. These five men were
living, as we had previously been told, in a little subterranean
house rudely constructed of bushes and boards, and entirely buried in
drifted snow. They were said to be well supplied with provisions,
and had a great many barrels, which the Chukchis supposed to contain
vodka, but which we presumed to be barrels of salt-beef. They made a
fire, the natives said, in the most wonderful manner by burning "black
stones in an iron box," while all the smoke came out mysteriously
through a crooked iron tube which turned around when the wind blew!
In this vivid but comical description we of course recognised a coal
stove and a pipe with a rotary funnel. They had also, Kozhevin was
told, an enormous tame black bear, which they allowed to run loose
around the house, and which chased away the Chukchis in a most
energetic manner. When I heard this I could no longer restrain a
hurrah of exultation. The party was made up of our old San Francisco
comrades, and the tame black bear was Robinson's Newfoundland dog! I
had petted him a hundred times in America and had his picture among my
photographs. He was the dog of the expedition. There could no longer
be any doubt whatever that the party thus living under the snow on the
great steppes south of Bering Strait was the long talked of Anadyr
River exploring party, under the command of Lieutenant Macrae; and our
hearts beat fast with excitement as we thought of the surprise which
we should give our old friends and comrades by coming upon them
suddenly in that desolate, Godforsaken region, almost two thousand
miles away from the point where they supposed we had landed. Such a
meeting would repay us tenfold for all the hardships of our Siberian
life.

Everything, by this time, was ready for a start. Our sledges were
loaded five feet high with provisions and dog-food for thirty days;
our fur tent was completed and packed away, to be used if necessary
in intensely cold weather; bags, overstockings, masks, thick
sleeping-coats, snow-shovels, axes, rifles, and long Siberian
snow-shoes were distributed around among the different sledges, and
everything which Gregorie, Dodd, and I could think of was done to
insure the success of the expedition.

On Monday morning, Jan. 22d, the whole party assembled in front of
the priest's house. For the sake of economising transportation, and
sharing the fortunes of our men, whatever they might be, Dodd and I
abandoned our _pavoskas_, and drove our own loaded sledges. We did not
mean to have the natives say that we compelled them to go and then
avoided our share of work and hardships. The entire population of the
village, men, women, and children, turned out to see us off, and
the street before the priest's house was blocked up with a crowd
of dark-faced men in spotted fur coats, scarlet sashes, and
fierce-looking foxskin hoods, anxious-faced women running to and fro
and bidding their husbands and brothers good-bye, eleven long, narrow
sledges piled high with dried fish and covered with yellow buckskin
and lashings of sealskin thongs, and finally a hundred and twenty-five
shaggy wolfish dogs, who drowned every other sound with their combined
howls of fierce impatience.

Our drivers went into the priest's house, and crossed themselves and
prayed before the picture of the Saviour, as is their custom
when starting on a long journey; Dodd and I bade good-bye to the
kind-hearted priest, and received the cordial "s' Bokhem" (go with
God), which is the Russian farewell; and then springing upon our
sledges, and releasing our frantic dogs, we went flying out of the
village in a cloud of snow which glittered like powdered jewel-dust in
the red sunshine.

Beyond the two or three hundred miles of snowy desert which lay before
us we could see, in imagination, a shadowy stove-pipe rising out of a
bank of snow--the "San greal" of which we, as arctic knights-errant,
were in search.

[Illustration: Ceremonial Masks of Wood]



CHAPTER XXVIII


A SLEDGE JOURNEY EASTWARD--REACHING TIDE-WATER--A NIGHT SEARCH FOR
A STOVE-PIPE--FINDING COMRADES--A VOICE FROM A STOVE--STORY OF THE
ANADYR PARTY

I will not detain the reader long with the first part of our journey
from Anadyrsk to the Pacific Coast, as it did not differ much from
our previous Siberian experience. Riding all day over the ice of the
river, or across barren steppes, and camping out at night on the snow,
in all kinds of weather, made up our life; and its dreary monotony was
relieved only by anticipations of a joyful meeting with our exiled
friends and the exciting consciousness that we were penetrating a
country never before visited by civilised man. Day by day the fringe
of alder bushes along the river bank grew lower and more scanty, and
the great steppes that bordered the river became whiter and more
barren as the river widened toward the sea. Finally we left behind us
the last vestige of vegetation, and began the tenth day of our journey
along a river which had increased to a mile in width, and amidst
plains perfectly destitute of all life, which stretched away in one
unbroken white expanse until they blended with the distant sky. It
was not without uneasiness that I thought of the possibility of being
overtaken by a ten days' storm in such a region as this. We had made,
as nearly as we could estimate, since leaving Anadyrsk, about two
hundred versts; but whether we were anywhere near the seacoast or not
we had no means of knowing. The weather for nearly a week had been
generally clear, and not very cold; but on the night of February 1st
the thermometer sank to -35°, and we could find only just enough small
green bushes to boil our teakettle. We dug everywhere in the snow
in search of wood, but found nothing except moss, and a few small
cranberry bushes which would not burn. Tired with the long day's
travel, and the fruitless diggings for wood, Dodd and I returned to
camp, and threw ourselves down upon our bearskins to drink tea. Hardly
had Dodd put his cup to his lips when I noticed that a curious,
puzzled expression came over his face, as if he found something
singular and unusual in the taste of the tea. I was just about to
ask him what was the matter, when he cried in a joyful and surprised
voice, "Tide-water! The tea is salt!" Thinking that perhaps a little
salt might have been dropped accidentally into the tea, I sent the men
down to the river for some fresh ice, which we carefully melted. It
was unquestionably salt. We had reached the tide-water of the Pacific,
and the ocean itself could not be far distant. One more day must
certainly bring us to the house of the American party, or to the mouth
of the river. From all appearances we should find no more wood; and
anxious to make the most of the clear weather, we slept only about six
hours, and started on at midnight by the light of a brilliant moon.

[Illustration: A MAN OF THE YUKAGIRS]

On the eleventh day after our departure from Anadyrsk, toward the
close of the long twilight which succeeds an arctic day, our little
train of eleven sledges drew near the place where, from Chukchi
accounts, we expected to find the long-exiled party of Americans. The
night was clear, still, and intensely cold, the thermometer at sunset
marking forty-four degrees below zero, and sinking rapidly to -50°
as the rosy flush in the west grew fainter and fainter, and darkness
settled down upon the vast steppe. Many times before, in Siberia and
Kamchatka, I had seen nature in her sterner moods and winter garb;
but never before had the elements of cold, barrenness, and desolation
seemed to combine into a picture so dreary as the one which was
presented to us that night near Bering Strait. Far as eye could pierce
the gathering gloom in every direction lay the barren steppe like a
boundless ocean of snow, blown into long wave-like ridges by previous
storms. There was not a tree, nor a bush, nor any sign of animal or
vegetable life, to show that we were not travelling on a frozen ocean.
All was silence and desolation. The country seemed abandoned by God
and man to the Arctic Spirit, whose trembling banners of auroral
light flared out fitfully in the north in token of his conquest and
dominion. About eight o'clock the full moon rose huge and red in the
east, casting a lurid glare over the vast field of snow; but, as if it
too were under the control of the Arctic Spirit, it was nothing more
than the mockery of a moon, and was constantly assuming the most
fantastic and varied shapes. Now it extended itself laterally into a
long ellipse, then gathered itself up into the semblance of a huge red
urn, lengthened out to a long perpendicular bar with rounded ends,
and finally became triangular. It can hardly be imagined what added
wildness and strangeness this blood-red distorted moon gave to a scene
already wild and strange. We seemed to have entered upon some frozen
abandoned world, where all the ordinary laws and phenomena of Nature
were suspended, where animal and vegetable life were extinct, and from
which even the favour of the Creator had been withdrawn. The intense
cold, the solitude, the oppressive silence, and the red, gloomy
moonlight, like the glare of a distant but mighty conflagration, all
united to excite in the mind feelings of awe, which were perhaps
intensified by the consciousness that never before had any human
being, save a few Wandering Chukchis, ventured in winter upon these
domains of the Frost King. There was none of the singing, joking,
and hallooing, with which our drivers were wont to enliven a night
journey. Stolid and unimpressible though they might be, there was
something in the scene which even _they_ felt and were silent. Hour
after hour wore slowly away until midnight. We had passed by more than
twenty miles the point on the river where the party of Americans was
supposed to be; but no sign had been found of the subterranean house
or its projecting stove-pipe, and the great steppe still stretched
away before us, white, ghastly, and illimitable as ever. For nearly
twenty-four hours we had travelled without a single stop, night or
day, except one at sunrise to rest our tired dogs; and the intense
cold, fatigue, anxiety, and lack of warm food, began at last to tell
upon our silent but suffering men. We realised for the first time the
hazardous nature of the adventure in which we were engaged, and the
almost absolute hopelessness of the search which we were making for
the lost American party. We had not one chance in a hundred of finding
at midnight on that vast waste of snow a little buried hut, whose
location we did not know within fifty miles, and of whose very
existence we were by no means certain. Who could tell whether the
Americans had not abandoned their subterranean house two months
before, and removed with some friendly natives to a more comfortable
and sheltered situation? We had heard nothing from them later than
December 1st, and it was now February. They might in that time have
gone a hundred miles down the coast looking for a settlement, or have
wandered far back into the interior with a band of Reindeer Chukchis.
It was not probable that they would have spent four months in that
dreary, desolate region without making an effort to escape. Even if
they were still in their old camp, however, how were we to find them?
We might have passed their little underground hut unobserved hours
before, and might be now going farther and farther away from it, from
wood, and from shelter. It had seemed a very easy thing before we left
Anadyrsk, to simply go down the river until we came to a house on the
bank, or saw a stove-pipe sticking out of a snow-drift; but now, two
hundred and fifty or three hundred miles from the settlement, in a
temperature of 50° below zero, when our lives perhaps depended upon
finding that little buried hut, we realised how wild had been our
anticipations, and how faint were our prospects of success. The
nearest wood was more than fifty miles behind us, and in our chilled
and exhausted condition we dared not camp without a fire. We must go
either forward or back--find the hut within four hours, or abandon the
search and return as rapidly as possible to the nearest wood. Our dogs
were beginning already to show unmistakable signs of exhaustion, and
their feet, lacerated by ice which had formed between the toes, were
now spotting the snow with blood at every step. Unwilling to give up
the search while there remained any hope, we still went on to the
eastward, along the edges of high bare bluffs skirting the river,
separating our sledges as widely as possible, and extending our line
so as to cover a greater extent of ground. A full moon now high in the
heavens, lighted up the vast lonely plain on the north side of the
river as brilliantly as day; but its whiteness was unbroken by any
dark object, save here and there little hillocks of moss or swampy
grass from which the snow had been swept by furious winds.

We were all suffering severely from cold, and our fur hoods and the
breasts of our fur coats were masses of white frost which had
been formed by our breaths. I had put on two heavy reindeerskin
_kukhlankas_ weighing in the aggregate about thirty pounds, belted
them tightly about the waist with a sash, drawn their thick hoods up
over my head and covered my face with a squirrelskin mask; but in
spite of all I could only keep from freezing by running beside
my sledge. Dodd said nothing, but was evidently disheartened and
half-frozen, while the natives sat silently upon their sledges as if
they expected nothing and hoped for nothing. Only Gregorie and an old
Chukchi whom we had brought with us as a guide showed any energy or
seemed to have any confidence in the ultimate discovery of the party.
They went on in advance, digging everywhere in the snow for wood,
examining carefully the banks of the river, and making occasional
détours into the snowy plain to the northward. At last Dodd, without
saying anything to me, gave his spiked stick to one of the natives,
drew his head and arms into the body of his fur coat, and lay down
upon his sledge to sleep, regardless of my remonstrances, and paying
no attention whatever to my questions. He was evidently becoming
stupefied by the deadly chill, which struck through the heaviest
furs, and which was constantly making insidious advances from the
extremities to the seat of life. He probably would not live through
the night unless he could be roused, and might not live two hours.
Discouraged by his apparently hopeless condition, and exhausted by
the constant struggle to keep warm, I finally lost all hope and
reluctantly decided to abandon the search and camp. By stopping where
we were, breaking up one of our sledges for firewood, and boiling a
little tea, I thought that Dodd might be revived; but to go on to the
eastward seemed to be needlessly risking the lives of all without any
apparent prospect of discovering the party or of finding wood. I had
just given the order to the natives nearest me to camp, when I thought
I heard a faint halloo in the distance. All the blood in my veins
suddenly rushed with a great throb to the heart as I threw back my fur
hood and listened. Again, a faint, long-drawn cry came back through
the still atmosphere from the sledges in advance. My dogs pricked up
their ears at the startling sound and dashed eagerly forward, and in a
moment I came upon several of our leading drivers gathered in a little
group around what seemed to be an old overturned whale-boat, which lay
half buried in snow by the river's bank. The footprint in the sand was
not more suggestive to Robinson Crusoe than was this weather-beaten,
abandoned whale-boat to us, for it showed that somewhere in the
vicinity were shelter and life. One of the men a few moments before
had driven over some dark, hard object in the snow, which he at first
supposed to be a log of driftwood; but upon stopping to examine it, he
found it to be an American whale-boat. If ever we thanked God from the
bottom of our hearts, it was then. Brushing away with my mitten the
long fringes of frost which hung to my eyelashes, I looked eagerly
around for a house, but Gregorie had been quicker than I, and a joyful
shout from a point a little farther down the river announced another
discovery. I left my dogs to go where they chose, threw away my spiked
stick, and started at a run in the direction of the sound. In a moment
I saw Gregorie and the old Chukchi standing beside a low mound of
snow, about a hundred yards back from the river-bank, examining some
dark object which projected from its smooth white surface. It was the
long talked-of, long-looked-for stove-pipe! The Anadyr River party was
found.

The unexpected discovery, at midnight, of this party of countrymen,
when we had just given up all hope of shelter, and almost of life,
was a God-send to our disheartened spirits, and I hardly knew in my
excitement what I did. I remember now walking hastily back and forth
in front of the snow-drift, repeating softly to myself at every step,
"Thank God!" "Thank God!" but at the time I was not conscious of
anything except the great fact that we had found that party. Dodd, who
had been roused from his half-frozen lethargy by the strong excitement
of the discovery, now suggested that we try to find the entrance to
the house and get in as quickly, as possible, as he was nearly dead
from cold and exhaustion. There was no sound of life in the lonely
snow-drift before us, and the inmates, if it had any, were evidently
asleep. Seeing no sign anywhere of a door, I walked up on the drift,
and shouted down through the stove-pipe in tremendous tones, "Halloo
the house!" A startled voice from under my feet demanded "Who's
there?"

"Come out and see! Where's the door?"

My voice seemed to the astounded Americans inside to come out of
the stove--a phenomenon which was utterly unparalleled in all their
previous experience; but they reasoned very correctly that any stove
which could ask in good English for the door in the middle of the
night had an indubitable right to be answered; and they replied in
a hesitating and half-frightened tone that the door was "on the
south-east corner." This left us about as wise as before. In the first
place we did not know which way south-east was, and in the second
a snow-drift could not properly be described as having a corner. I
started around the stove-pipe, however, in a circle, with the hope of
finding some sort of an entrance. The inmates had dug a deep ditch or
trench about thirty feet in length for a doorway, and had covered it
over with sticks and reindeerskins to keep out the drifting snow.
Stepping incautiously upon this frail roof I fell through just as one
of the startled men was coming out in his shirt and drawers, holding a
candle above his head, and peering through the darkness of the tunnel
to see who would enter. The sudden descent through the roof of such an
apparition as I knew myself to be, was not calculated to restore the
steadiness of startled nerves. I had on two heavy _kukhlankas_ which
swelled out my figure to gigantic proportions; two thick reindeerskin
hoods with long frosty fringes of black bearskin were pulled up over
my head, a squirrelskin mask frozen into a sheet of ice concealed my
face, and nothing but the eyes peering out through tangled masses of
frosty hair showed that the furs contained a human being. The man took
two or three frightened steps backward and nearly dropped his candle.
I came in such a "questionable shape" that he might well demand
"whether my intents were wicked or charitable!" As I recognised his
face, however, and addressed him again in English, he stopped; and
tearing off my mask and fur hoods I spoke my name. Never was
there such rejoicing as that which then took place in that little
underground cellar, as I recognised in the exiled party two of my old
comrades and friends, to whom eight months before I had bid good-bye,
as the _Olga_ sailed out of the Golden Gate of San Francisco. I little
thought when I shook hands with Harder and Robinson then, that I
should next meet them at midnight, in a little snow-covered cellar, on
the great lonely steppes of the lower Anadyr. As soon as we had taken
off our heavy furs and seated ourselves beside a warm fire, we began
to feel the sudden reaction which necessarily followed twenty-four
hours of such exposure, suffering, and anxiety. Our overstrained
nerves gave way all at once, and in ten minutes I could hardly raise a
cup of coffee to my lips. Ashamed of such womanish weakness, I tried
to conceal it from the Americans, and I presume they do not know to
this day that Dodd and I nearly fainted several times within the first
twenty minutes, from the suddenness of the change from 50° below zero
to 70° above, and the nervous exhaustion produced by anxiety and lack
of sleep. We felt an irresistible craving for some powerful stimulant
and called for brandy, but there was no liquor of any kind to be had.
This weakness, however, soon passed away, and we proceeded to relate
to one another our respective histories and adventures, while our
drivers huddled together in a mass at one end of the little hut and
refreshed themselves with hot tea.

The party of Americans which we had thus found buried in the snow,
more than three hundred versts from Anadyrsk, had been landed there by
one of the Company's vessels, some time in September. Their intention
had been to ascend the river in a whale-boat until they should reach
some settlement, and then try to open communication with us; but
winter set in so suddenly, and the river froze over so unexpectedly,
that this plan could not be carried out. Having no means of
transportation but their boat, they could do nothing more than build
themselves a house, and go into winter quarters, with the faint hope
that, some time before spring, Major Abaza would send a party of men
to their relief. They had built a sort of burrow underground, with
bushes, driftwood, and a few boards which had been left by the vessel,
and there they had been living by lamp-light for five months, without
ever seeing the face of a civilised human being. The Wandering
Chukchis had soon found out their situation and frequently visited
them on reindeer-sledges, and brought them fresh meat, and blubber
which they used for lamp-oil; but these natives, on account of a
superstition which I have previously mentioned, refused to sell
them any living reindeer, so that all their efforts to procure
transportation were unavailing. The party originally consisted of
five men--Macrae, Arnold, Robinson, Harder, and Smith; but Macrae
and Arnold, about three weeks previous to our arrival, had organised
themselves into a "forlorn hope," and had gone away with a large band
of Wandering Chukchis in search, of some Russian settlement. Since
that time nothing had been heard from them, and Robinson, Harder, and
Smith had been living alone.

Such was the situation when we found the party. Of course, there was
nothing to be done but carry these three men and all their stores back
to Anadyrsk, where we should probably find Macrae and Arnold awaiting
our arrival. The Chukchis came to Anadyrsk, I knew, every winter, for
the purpose of trade, and would probably bring the two Americans with
them.

After three days spent in resting, refitting, and packing up, we
started back with the rescued party, and on February 6th we returned
in safety to Anadyrsk.

[Illustration: Stone Hatchet for cutting edible grass]



CHAPTER XXIX


CLASSIFICATION OF NATIVES--INDIAN TYPE, MONGOLIAN TYPE, AND TURKISH
TYPE--EASTERN VIEW OF WESTERN ARTS AND FASHIONS--AN AMERICAN SAINT

All the inhabitants of the settlement were in the streets to meet us
when we returned; but we were disappointed not to see among them the
faces of Macrae and Arnold. Many bands of Chukchis from the lower
Anadyr had arrived at the village, but nothing had been heard of the
missing men. Forty-five days had now elapsed since they left their
camp on the river, and, unless they had died or been murdered, they
ought long since to have arrived. I should have sent a party in search
of them, but I had not the slightest clue to the direction in which
they had gone, or the intentions of the party that had carried them
away; and to look for a band of Wandering Chukchis on those great
steppes was as hopeless as to look for a missing vessel in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean, and far more dangerous. We could only wait,
therefore, and hope for the best. We spent the first week after our
return in resting, writing up our journals, and preparing a report of
our explorations, to be forwarded by special courier to the Major.
During this time great numbers of wild, wandering natives--Chukchis,
Lamutkis (la-moot'-kees) and a few Koraks--came into the settlement
to exchange their furs and walrus teeth for tobacco, and gave us an
excellent opportunity of studying their various characteristics and
modes of life. The Wandering Chukchis, who visited us in the greatest
numbers, were evidently the most powerful tribe in north-eastern
Siberia, and impressed us very favourably with their general
appearance and behaviour. Except for their dress, they could hardly
have been distinguished from North American Indians--many of them
being as tall, athletic, and vigorous specimens of savage manhood as
I had ever seen. They did not differ in any essential particular from
the Wandering Koraks, whose customs, religion, and mode of life I have
already described.

[Illustration: A MAN OF THE WANDERING CHUKCHIS]

The Lamutkis, however, were an entirely different race, and resembled
the Chukchis only in their nomadic habits. All the natives in
north-eastern Siberia, except the Kamchadals, Chuances, and Yukagirs,
who are partially Russianised, may be referred to one or another of
three great classes. The first of these, which may be called the North
American Indian class, comprises the wandering and settled Chukchis
and Koraks, and covers that part of Siberia lying between the 160th
meridian of east longitude and Bering Strait. It is the only class
which has ever made a successful stand against Russian invasion, and
embraces without doubt the bravest, most independent savages in all
Siberia. I do not think that this class numbers all together more than
six or eight thousand souls, although the estimates of the Russians
are much larger.

The second class comprises all the natives in eastern Siberia who
are evidently and unmistakably of Mongolian origin, including the
Tunguses, the Lamutkis, the Manchus, and the Gilyaks of the Amur
River. It covers a greater extent of ground probably than both of the
other classes together, its representatives being found as far west as
the Yenesei, and as far east as Anadyrsk, in 169° E. long. The only
branches of this class that I have ever seen are the Lamutkis and the
Tunguses. They are almost exactly alike, both being very slenderly
built men, with straight black hair, dark olive complexions, no
beards, and more or less oblique eyes. They do not resemble a Chukchi
or a Korak any more than a Chinaman resembles a Comanche or a Sioux.
Their dress is very peculiar. It consists of a fur hood, tight fur
trousers, short deerskin boots, a Masonic apron, made of soft flexible
buckskin and elaborately ornamented with beads and pieces of metal,
and a singular-looking frock-coat cut in very civilised style out of
deerskin, and ornamented with long strings of coloured reindeer
hair made into chenille. You can never see one without having the
impression that he is dressed in some kind of a regalia or uniform.
The men and women resemble each other very much in dress and
appearance, and by a stranger cannot be distinguished apart. Like the
Chukchis and Koraks, they are reindeer nomads, but differ somewhat
from the former in their mode of life. Their tents are smaller and
differently constructed and instead of dragging their tent-poles from
place to place as the Chukchis do, they leave them standing; when they
break camp, and either cut new ones or avail themselves of frames left
standing by other bands. Tent-poles in this way serve as landmarks,
and a day's, journey is from one collection of frames to another. Few
of the Tunguses or Lamutkis own many deer. Two or three hundred are
considered to be a large herd, and a man who owns more than that is
regarded as a sort of millionaire. Such herds as are found among the
Koraks in northern Kamchatka, numbering from five to ten thousand, are
never to be seen west of Gizhiga. The Tunguses, however, use their few
deer to better advantage and in a greater variety of ways than do
the Koraks. The latter seldom ride their deer or train them to carry
packs, while the Tunguses do both. The Tunguses are of a mild, amiable
disposition, easily governed and easily influenced, and seem to have
made their way over so large an extent of country more through the
sufferance of other tribes than through any aggressive power or
disposition of their own. Their original religion was Shamanism,
but they now profess almost universally the Greco-Russian faith and
receive Christian names. They acknowledge also their subjection to
the authority of the Tsar, and pay a regular annual tribute in furs.
Nearly all the Siberian squirrelskins which reach the European market
are bought by Russian traders from Wandering Tunguses around the
Okhotsk Sea. When I left the settlement of Okhotsk, in the fall of
1867, there were more than seventy thousand squirrelskins there in the
hands of one Russian merchant, and this was only a small part of the
whole number caught by the Tunguses during that summer. The Lamutkis,
who are first cousins to the Tunguses, are fewer in number, but live
in precisely the same way. I never met more than three or four
bands during two years of almost constant travel in all parts of
north-eastern Siberia.

The third great class of natives is the Turkish. It comprises only the
Yakuts (yah-koots') who are settled chiefly along the Lena River from
its head-waters to the Arctic Ocean. Their origin is unknown, but
their language is said to resemble the Turkish or modern Osmanli so
closely that a Constantinopolitan of the lower class could converse
fairly well with a Yakut from the Lena. I regret that I was not enough
interested in comparative philology while in Siberia to compile
a vocabulary and grammar of the Yakut language. I had excellent
opportunities for doing so, but was not aware at that time of its
close resemblance to the Turkish, and looked upon it only as
an unintelligible jargon which proved nothing but the active
participation of the Yakuts in the construction of the Tower of Babel.
The bulk of this tribe is settled immediately around the Asiatic pole
of cold, and they can unquestionably endure a lower temperature with
less suffering than any other natives in Siberia. They are called by
the Russian explorer Wrangell, "iron men," and well do they deserve
the appellation. The thermometer at Yakutsk, where several thousands
of them are settled, _averages_ during the three winter months
thirty-seven degrees below zero; but this intense cold does not seem
to occasion them the slightest inconvenience. I have seen them in a
temperature of -40°, clad only in a shirt and one sheepskin coat,
standing quietly in the street, talking and laughing as if it were a
pleasant summer's day and they were enjoying the balmy air! They are
the most thrifty, industrious natives in all northern Asia. It is a
proverbial saying in Siberia, that if you take a Yakut, strip him
naked, and set him down in the middle of a great desolate steppe, and
then return to that spot at the expiration of a year, you will find
him living in a large, comfortable house, surrounded by barns and
haystacks, owning herds of horses and cattle, and enjoying himself
like a patriarch. They have all been more or less civilised by Russian
intercourse, and have adopted Russian manners and the religion of the
Greek Church. Those settled along the Lena cultivate rye and hay, keep
herds of Siberian horses and cattle, and live principally upon coarse
black-bread, milk, butter, and horse-flesh. They are notorious
gluttons. All are very skilful in the use of the "topor" or short
Russian axe, and with that instrument alone will go into a primeval
forest, cut down trees, hew out timber and planks, and put up a
comfortable house, complete even to panelled doors and window-sashes.
They are the only natives in all north-eastern Siberia who can do and
are willing to do hard continuous work.

[Illustration: TUNGUSE MAN AND WOMAN IN BEST SUMMER DRESS]

These three great classes, viz., American Indian natives, Mongolian
natives, and Turko-Yakut natives, comprise all the aboriginal
inhabitants of north-eastern Siberia except the Kamchadals, the
Chuances, and the Yukagirs. [Footnote: There are a few Eskimo-like
natives living in permanent habitations near Bering Strait, but we did
not see them.] These last have been so modified by Russian influence,
that it is hard to tell to which class they are most nearly allied,
and the ethnologist will shortly be relieved from all further
consideration of the problem by their inevitable extinction. The
Chuances and Yukagirs have already become mere fragments of tribes,
and their languages will perish with the present generation.

The natives of whom we saw most at Anadyrsk were, as I have already
said, the Chukchis. They frequently called upon us in large parties,
and afforded us a great deal of amusement by their naïve and childlike
comments upon Americans, American instruments, and the curious
American things generally which we produced for their inspection. I
shall never forget the utter astonishment with which a band of them
once looked through my field-glass. I had been trying it one clear
cold day out-of-doors, and quite a crowd of Chukchis and Yukagirs had
gathered around me to see what I was doing. Observing their curiosity,
I gave the glass to one of them and told him to look through it at
another native who happened to be standing out on the plain, at
a distance of perhaps a hundred yards. The expression of blank,
half-incredulous surprise which gradually came over his features as
he saw that native brought up, apparently within a few feet, was
irresistibly comical. He did not dream for a moment that it was a
mere optical illusion; he supposed that the wonderful instrument had
actually transported the man physically from a distance of a hundred
yards up to the place where he stood, and as he held the glass to his
eyes with one hand, he stretched out the other to try to catch hold of
him. Finding to his great astonishment that he could not, he removed
the glass, and saw the man standing quietly as before, a hundred yards
away. The idea then seemed to occur to him that if he could only
get this mysterious instrument to his eyes quickly enough, he would
surprise the man in the very act of coming up--catch him perhaps about
half-way--and find out how it was done. He accordingly raised the
glass toward his face very slowly (watching the man meanwhile
intently, to see that he took no unfair advantage and did not start
too soon) until it was within an inch of his eyes, and then looked
through it suddenly. But it was of no use. The man was right beside
him again, but how he came there he didn't know. Perhaps he could
catch him if he made a sudden dash, and he tried it. This, however,
was no more successful than his previous experiments, and the other
natives looked at him in perfect amazement, wondering what he was
trying to do with all these singular motions. He endeavoured to
explain to them in great excitement that the man had been brought up
apparently within arm's length, and yet he could not touch him. His
comrades of course denied indignantly that the man had moved at all,
and they engaged in a furious dispute as to whether this innocent and
unconscious man had been anywhere near them or not. The native who
maintained the affirmative appealed to me; but, convulsed with
laughter, I could make no reply, and he started off at a run, to see
the man and find out whether he had been brought up or not, and how it
felt to be transported over a hundred yards of space in an instant of
time! We who are familiar with these discoveries of science can hardly
realise how they appear to a wholly uneducated savage; but if a
superior race of beings should come from the planet Mars and show us
a mysterious instrument which enabled a man to be in two different
places at the same time, we should understand the sensations of a
Chukchi in looking through a field-glass.

Soon after this I happened to be encamped one night on a great plain
near Anadyrsk, with a party of these same natives; and having received
a note from Dodd by a special messenger, I was engaged in reading it
by the camp-fire. At several humorous passages I burst into a loud
laugh; whereupon the natives nudged one another with their elbows and
pointed significantly at me, as much as to say, "Just look at the
crazy American! What's the matter with him now?" Finally one of them,
an old grey-haired man, asked me what I was laughing at. "Why," said
I, "I am laughing at this," and pointed to the piece of paper. The old
man thought about it for a moment, compared notes with the others, and
they all thought about it; but no one seemed to succeed in getting
any light as to the cause of my incomprehensible laughter. In a few
moments the old man picked up a half-burned stick which was lying by
the fire and said: "Now suppose I should look at this stick for a
minute and then laugh; what would you think?" "Why," said I candidly,
"I should think you were a fool." "Well," he rejoined with grave
satisfaction, "that's just exactly what I think of you!" He seemed to
be very much pleased to find that our several opinions of such insane
conduct so exactly coincided. Looking at a stick and laughing, and
looking at a piece of paper and laughing, seemed to him equally
absurd. The languages of the Chukchis and Koraks have never-been
reduced to writing; nor, so far as I know, do either of those tribes
ever attempt to express ideas by signs or pictures. Written thought is
to many of them an impossible conception. It can be imagined, perhaps,
with what wonder and baffled curiosity they pore over the illustrated
newspapers which are occasionally given to them by the sailors of
whaling vessels which visit the coast. Some of the pictures they
recognise as representations of things with which they are acquainted;
but by far the greater number are as incomprehensible as the
hieroglyphics of the Aztecs. I remember that a Korak once brought to
me an old tattered fashion-plate from _Frank Leslie's Illustrated
Newspaper_ containing three or four full-length figures of imaginary
ladies, in the widest expansion of crinoline which fashion at that
time prescribed. The poor Korak said he had often wondered what those
curious objects could be; and now, as I was an American, perhaps I
could tell him. He evidently had not the most remote suspicion that
they were intended to represent human beings. I told him that those
curious objects, as he called them, were American women. He burst out
into a "tyée-e-e-e!" of amazement, and asked with a wondering look,
"Are _all_ the women in your country as big as that at the bottom?" It
was a severe reflection upon our ladies' dress, and I did not venture
to tell him that the bigness was artificial, but merely replied sadly
that they were. He looked curiously down at my feet and then at the
picture, and then again at my feet, as if he were trying to trace some
resemblance between the American man and the American woman; but he
failed to do it, and wisely concluded that they must be of widely
different species.

[Illustration: A TUNGUSE SUMMER TENT]

The pictures from these papers are sometimes put to curious uses. In
the hut of a Christianised but ignorant native near Anadyrsk, I once
saw an engraved portrait, cut from _Harper's Weekly_, of Major General
Dix, framed, hung up in a corner of the room and worshipped as a
Russian saint! A gilded candle was burning before his smoky features,
and every night and morning a dozen natives crossed themselves and
said their prayers to a major-general in the United States Army! It
is the only instance, I believe, on record, where a major-general has
been raised to the dignity of a saint without even being dead.
St. George of England, we are told, was originally a corrupt army
contractor of Cappadocia, but he was not canonised until long
after his death, when the memory of his contracts was no more. For
Major-General Dix was reserved the peculiar privilege of being at the
same time United States Minister in Paris and a saint in Siberia!

[Illustration: Woman's fur lined Hood]



CHAPTER XXX


AN ARCTIC AURORA--ORDERS FROM THE MAJOR--ADVENTURES OF MACRAE AND
ARNOLD WITH THE CHUKCHIS--RETURN TO GIZHIGA--REVIEW OF WINTER'S WORK

Among the few pleasures which reward the traveller for the hardships
and dangers of life in the Far North, there are none which are
brighter or longer remembered than the magnificent auroral displays
which occasionally illumine the darkness of the long polar night, and
light up with a celestial glory the whole blue vault of heaven. No
other natural phenomenon is so grand, so mysterious, so terrible in
its unearthly splendour as this. The veil which conceals from mortal
eyes the glory of the eternal throne seems drawn aside, and the awed
beholder is lifted out of the atmosphere of his daily life into the
immediate presence of God.

On the 20th of February, while we were all yet living together at
Anadyrsk, there occurred one of the grandest displays of the arctic
aurora which had been observed there for more than fifty years, and
which exhibited such unusual and extraordinary brilliancy as to
astonish and frighten even the natives. It was a cold, dark, but clear
winter's night, and the sky in the earlier part of the evening showed
no signs of the magnificent illumination which was already being
prepared. A few streamers wavered now and then in the north, and a
faint radiance like that of the rising moon shone above the dark
belt of shrubbery which bordered the river; but these were common
occurrences, and excited no notice or remark. Late in the evening,
just as we were preparing to go to bed, Dodd happened to go outside
for a moment to look after his dogs; but no sooner had he reached the
outer door of the entry than he came rushing back, his face ablaze
with excitement, shouting: "Kennan! Robinson! Come out, quick!" With
a vague impression that the village must be on fire, I sprang up, and
without stopping to put on my furs, fan hastily out, followed closely
by Robinson, Harder, and Smith. As we emerged into the open air there
burst suddenly upon our startled eyes the grandest exhibition of vivid
dazzling light and colour of which the mind can conceive. The whole
universe seemed to be on fire. A broad arch of brilliant prismatic
colours spanned the heavens from east to west like a gigantic rainbow,
with a long fringe of crimson and yellow streamers stretching up
from its convex edge to the very zenith. At intervals of one or two
seconds, wide, luminous bands, parallel with the arch, rose suddenly
out of the northern horizon and swept with a swift, steady majesty
across the whole heavens, like long breakers of phosphorescent light
rolling in from some limitless ocean of space.

Every portion of the vast arch was momentarily wavering, trembling,
and changing colour, and the brilliant streamers which fringed its
edge swept back and forth in great curves, like the fiery sword of the
angel at the gate of Eden. In a moment the great auroral rainbow, with
all its wavering streamers, began to move slowly up toward the zenith,
and a second arch of equal brilliancy formed directly under it,
shooting up a long serried row of slender, coloured lances toward the
North Star, like a battalion of the celestial host presenting arms to
its commanding angel. Every instant the display increased in unearthly
grandeur. The luminous bands revolved swiftly, like the spokes of a
great wheel of light, across the heavens; the streamers hurried back
and forth with swift, tremulous motion from the ends of the arches to
the centre; and now and then a great wave of crimson would surge up
from the north and fairly deluge the whole sky with colour, tingeing
the white snowy earth far and wide with its rosy reflection. But as
the words of the prophecy, "And the heavens shall be turned to blood,"
formed themselves upon my lips, the crimson suddenly vanished, and
a lightning flash of vivid orange startled us with its wide,
all-pervading glare, which extended even to the southern horizon, as
if the whole volume of the atmosphere had suddenly taken fire. I even
held my breath a moment, as I listened for the tremendous crash of
thunder which it seemed to me must follow this sudden burst of vivid
light; but in heaven or earth there was not a sound to break the
stillness of midnight save the hastily muttered prayers of the
frightened native at my side, as he crossed himself and kneeled down
before the visible majesty of God. I could not imagine any possible
addition which even Almighty power could make to the grandeur of the
aurora as it now appeared. The rapid alternations of crimson, blue,
green, and yellow in the sky were reflected so vividly from the white
surface of the snow, that the whole world seemed now steeped in blood,
and then quivering in an atmosphere of pale, ghastly green, through
which shone the unspeakable glories of the two mighty crimson and
yellow arches. But the end was not yet. As we watched with upturned
faces the swift ebb and flow of these great celestial tides of
coloured light, the last seal of the glorious revelation was suddenly
broken, and both arches were simultaneously shivered into a thousand
parallel perpendicular bars, every one of which displayed in regular
order, from top to bottom, the primary colours of the solar spectrum.
From horizon to horizon there now stretched two vast curving bridges
of coloured bars, across which we almost expected to see, passing and
repassing, the bright inhabitants of another world. Amid cries of
astonishment and exclamations of "God have mercy!" from the startled
natives, these innumerable bars began to move back and forth, with a
swift dancing motion, along the whole extent of both arches, passing
one another from side to side with such bewildering rapidity that
the eye was lost in the attempt to follow them. The whole concave of
heaven seemed transformed into one great revolving kaleidoscope of
shattered rainbows. Never had I even dreamed of such an aurora as
_this_, and I am not ashamed to confess that its magnificence for a
moment overawed and almost frightened me. The whole sky, from zenith
to horizon, was "one molten mantling sea of colour and fire;--crimson
and purple, and scarlet and green, and colours for which there are no
words in language and no ideas in the mind--things which can only be
conceived while they are visible." The "signs and portents" in the
heavens were grand enough to herald the destruction of a world;
flashes of rich quivering colour, covering half the sky for an instant
and then vanishing like summer lightning; brilliant green streamers
shooting swiftly but silently up across the zenith; thousands of
variegated bars sweeping past one another in two magnificent arches,
and great luminous waves rolling in from the inter-planetary spaces
and breaking in long lines of radiant glory upon the shallow
atmosphere of a darkened world.

With the separation of the two arches into bars the aurora reached its
utmost magnificence, and from that time its supernatural beauty slowly
but steadily faded. The first arch broke up, and soon after it the
second; the flashes of colour appeared less and less frequently; the
luminous bands ceased to revolve across the zenith; and in an hour
nothing remained in the dark starry heavens to remind us of the
aurora, except a few faint Magellan clouds of luminous vapour.

The month of February wore slowly away, and March found us still
living in Anadyrsk, without any news from the Major, or from the
missing men, Arnold and Macrae. Fifty-seven days had now elapsed since
they left their camp on the lower Anadyr, and we began to fear that
they would never again be seen. Whether they had starved, or frozen
to death on some great desolate plain south of Bering Strait, or been
murdered by the Chukchis, we could not conjecture, but their long
absence was a proof that they had met with some misfortune.

I was not at all satisfied with the route over which we had passed
from Shestakóva to Anadyrsk, on account of its barrenness, and the
impossibility of transporting heavy telegraph poles over its great
snowy steppes from the few wooded rivers by which it was traversed. I
accordingly started from Anadyrsk with five dog-sledges on March 4th,
to try to find a better route between the Anadyr and the head-waters
of the Penzhina River. Three days after our departure we met, on the
road to Penzhina, a special messenger from Gizhiga, bringing a letter
from the Major dated Okhotsk, January 19th. Enclosed were letters from
Colonel Bulkley, announcing the landing of the Anadyr River party
under Lieutenant Macrae, and a map showing the location of their camp.
The Major wrote as follows: "In case--what God forbid--Macrae and
party have not arrived at Anadyrsk, you will immediately, upon the
receipt of this letter, do your utmost to deliver them from their
too long winter quarters at the mouth of the Anadyr, where they were
landed in September. I was told that Macrae would be landed _only in
case of perfect certainty_ to reach Anadyrsk in boats, and I confess I
don't like such surprises as Colonel Bulkley has made me now. For the
present our duty consists in doing our utmost to extricate them from
where they are, and you must get every dog-sledge you can, stuff them
with dog-food and provisions, and go at once in search of Macrae's
camp." These directions I had already anticipated and carried out, and
Macrae's party, or at least all I could find of it, was now living
in Anadyrsk. When the Major wrote this letter, however, he did not
suppose that Dodd and I would hear of the landing of the party through
the Wandering Chukchis, or that we would think of going in search of
them without orders. He knew that he had told us particularly not to
attempt to explore the Anadyr River until another season, and did not
expect that we would go beyond the last settlement. I wrote a hasty
note to Dodd upon the icy runner of my overturned sledge--freezing two
fingers in the operation--and sent the courier on to Anadyrsk with the
letters. The mail also included letters to me from Captain Scammon,
commander of the Company's fleet, and one from my friend W.H. Dall,
who had returned with the vessels to San Francisco, and had written me
while stopping a few days at Petropavlovsk. He begged me, by all the
sacred interests of Science, not to let a single bug or living thing
of any kind escape my vigilant eye; but, as I read his letter that
night by the camp-fire, I thought with a smile that snowy Siberian
steppes and temperatures of 30° and 40° below zero were not very
favourable to the growth and dispersion of bugs, nor to efforts for
their capture and preservation.

I will not go into a detailed account of the explorations which
Lieutenant Robinson and I made in search of a more practicable route
for our line between the Penzhina River and Anadyrsk. We found that
the river system of the Anadyrsk was divided from that of the Penzhina
only by a low mountain ridge, which could be easily passed, and that,
by following up certain tributaries of the latter, crossing the
watershed, and descending one of the branches of the Anadyr, we should
have almost unbroken water communication between the Okhotsk Sea and
Bering Strait. Along these rivers timber was generally abundant, and
where there was none, poles could be distributed easily in rafts. The
route thus indicated was everything which could be desired; and, much
gratified by the results of our labours, we returned on March 13th to
Anadyrsk.

We were overjoyed to learn from the first man who met us after we
entered the settlement that Macrae and Arnold had arrived, and in five
minutes we were shaking them by the hand, congratulating them, upon
their safe arrival, and overwhelming them with questions as to their
travels and adventures, and the reasons of their long absence.

For sixty-four days they had been living with the Wandering Chukchis,
and making their way slowly and by a circuitous route towards
Anadyrsk. They had generally been well treated, but the band with
which they travelled had been in no hurry to reach the settlement, and
had been carrying them at the rate of ten or twelve miles a day all
over the great desolate steppes which lie south of the Anadyr River.
They had experienced great hardships; had lived upon reindeer's
entrails and tallow for weeks at a time; had been alive almost
constantly with vermin; had spent the greater part of two long months
in smoky Chukchi _pologs_, and had despaired, sometimes, of ever
reaching a Russian settlement or seeing again a civilised human being;
but hope and courage had sustained them through it all, and they had
finally arrived at Anadyrsk safe and well. The sum-total of their
baggage when they drove into the settlement was a quart bottle
of whisky wrapped up in an American flag! As soon as we were all
together, we raised the flag on a pole over our little log house,
made a whisky punch out of the liquor which had traversed half
north-eastern Siberia, and drank it in honour of the men who had lived
sixty-four days with the Wandering Chukchis, and carried the stars and
stripes through the wildest, least known region on the face of the
globe.

Having now accomplished all that could be done in the way of
exploration, we began making preparations for a return to Gizhiga. The
Major had directed me to meet him there with Macrae, Arnold, Robinson,
and Dodd, as soon as the first of April, and the month of March was
now rapidly drawing to a close.

[Illustration: A CHUKCHI RUG OF REINDEER SKIN]

On the 20th we packed up our stores, and bidding good-bye to the
kind-hearted, hospitable people of Anadyrsk, we set out with a long
train of sledges for the coast of the Okhotsk Sea.

Our journey was monotonous and uneventful, and on the second of April,
late at night, we left behind us the white desolate steppe of the
Paren, and drew near the little flat-topped _yurt_ on the Malmofka,
which was only twenty-five versts from Gizhiga. Here we met fresh men,
dogs, and sledges, sent out to meet us by the Major, and, abandoning
our loaded sledges and tired dogs, we took seats upon the light
_narts_ of the Gizhiga Cossacks, and dashed away by the light of a
brilliant aurora toward the settlement.

About one o'clock we heard the distant barking of dogs, and in a few
moments we rushed furiously into the silent village, and stopped
before the house of the Russian merchant Vorrebeof (vor'-re-be-off')
where we had lived the previous fall, and where we expected to find
the Major. I sprang from my sledge, and groping my way through the
entry into a warm dark room I shouted "Fstavaitia!" to arouse the
sleeping inmates. Suddenly some one rose up from the floor at my feet,
and, grasping me by the arm, exclaimed in a strangely familiar voice,
"Kennan, is that you?" Startled and bewildered with half-incredulous
recognition, I could only reply, "Bush, is that you?" and, when a
sleepy boy came in with a light, he was astonished to find a man
dressed in heavy frosty furs embracing another who was clad only in a
linen shirt and drawers.

There was a joyful time in that log house when the Major, Bush,
Macrae, Arnold, Robinson, Dodd, and I gathered around a steaming
samovar or tea-urn which stood on a pine table in the centre of the
room, and discussed the adventures, haps, and mishaps of our first
arctic winter. Some of us had come from the extremity of Kamchatka,
some from the frontier of China, and some from Bering Strait, and we
all met that night in Gizhiga, and congratulated ourselves and one
another upon the successful exploration of the whole route of the
proposed Russian-American telegraph line from Anadyr Bay to the Amur
River. The different members of the party there assembled had, in
seven months, travelled in the aggregate almost ten thousand miles.

The results of our winter's work were briefly as follows: Bush and
Mahood, after leaving the Major and me at Petropavlovsk, had gone on
to the Russian settlement of Nikolaievsk, at the mouth of the Amur
River, and had entered promptly upon the exploration of the west coast
of the Okhotsk Sea. They had travelled with the Wandering Tunguses
through the densely timbered region between Nikolaievsk and Aian,
ridden on the backs of reindeer over the rugged mountains of the
Stanavoi range south of Okhotsk, and had finally met the Major at the
latter place on the 22d. of February. The Major, alone, had explored
the whole north coast of the Okhotsk Sea and had made a visit to the
Russian city of Yakutsk, six hundred versts west of Okhotsk, in quest
of labourers and horses. He had ascertained the possibility of hiring
a thousand Yakut labourers in the settlements along the Lena River, at
the rate of sixty dollars a year for each man, and of purchasing
there as many Siberian horses as we should require at very reasonable
prices. He had located a route for the line from Gizhiga to Okhotsk,
and had superintended generally the whole work of exploration. Macrae
and Arnold had explored nearly all the region lying south of the
Anadyr and along the lower Myan, and had gained much valuable
information concerning the little-known tribe of Wandering Chukchis.
Dodd, Robinson, and I had explored two routes from Gizhiga to
Anadyrsk, and had found a chain of wooded rivers connecting the
Okhotsk Sea with the Pacific Ocean near Bering Strait. The natives we
had everywhere found to be peaceable and well disposed, and many of
them along the route of the line were already engaged in cutting
poles. The country, although by no means favourable to the
construction of a telegraph line, presented no obstacles which energy
and perseverance could not overcome; and, as we reviewed our winter's
work, we felt satisfied that the enterprise in which we were engaged,
if not altogether an easy one, held out at least a fair prospect of
success.



CHAPTER XXXI


LAST WORK OF THE WINTER--BIRDS AND FLOWERS OF SPRING CONTINUOUS
DAYLIGHT--SOCIAL LIFE IN GIZHIGA--A CURIOUS SICKNESS--SUMMER DAYS AND
NIGHTS--NEWS FROM AMERICA

The months of April and May, owing to the great length of the days
and the comparative mildness of the weather, are the most favourable
months in north-eastern Siberia for outdoor work and travel; and as
the Company's vessels could not be expected to arrive at Gizhiga
before the early part of June, Major Abaza determined to make the
most of the intervening time. As soon as he had recovered a little,
therefore, from the fatigue of his journey, he started with Bush,
Macrae, and the Russian governor, for Anadyrsk, intending to
engage there fifty or sixty native labourers and begin at once the
construction of station-houses and the cutting and distribution of
poles along the Anadyr River. My own efforts to that end, owing to the
laziness of the Anadyrsk people, had been unsuccessful; but it
was hoped that through the influence and cooperation of the civil
authority something might perhaps be done.

Major Abaza returned by the very last winter road in May. His
expedition had been entirely successful; Mr. Bush had been put in
command of the Northern District from Penzhina to Bering Strait, and
he, together with Macrae, Harder, and Smith, had been left at Anadyrsk
for the summer. As soon as the Anadyr River should open, this party
was directed to descend it in canoes to its mouth, and there await
the arrival of one of the Company's vessels from San Francisco, with
reinforcements and supplies. In the meantime fifty native labourers
from Anadyrsk, Osolkin, and Pokorukof, had been hired and placed at
their disposal, and it was hoped that by the time the ice should be
out of the river they would have six or eight station-houses prepared,
and several thousand poles cut, ready for distribution in rafts
between the settlements of Anadyrsk and the Pacific coast. Having thus
accomplished all that it was possible to accomplish with the limited
means and force at his disposal, Major Abaza returned to Gizhiga,
to await the arrival of the promised vessels from America with men,
material, and supplies, for the prosecution of the work.

The season for dog-sledge travel was now over; and as the country
afforded no other means of interior transportation, we could not
expect to do any more work, or have any further communication with
our outlying parties at Anadyrsk and Okhotsk until the arrival of
our vessels. We therefore rented for ourselves a little log house
overlooking the valley, of the Gizhiga River, furnished it as
comfortably as possible with a few plain wooden chairs and tables,
hung up our maps and charts on the rough log-walls, displayed our
small library of two books--Shakespeare and the New Testament--as
advantageously as possible in one corner, and prepared for at least a
month of luxurious idleness.

It was now June. The snow was rapidly disappearing under the influence
of the warm long-continued sunshine; the ice in the river showed
unmistakable signs of breaking up; patches of bare ground appeared
here and there along the sunny hillsides, and everything foretold the
speedy approach of the short but hot arctic summer. Winter in most
parts of north-eastern Siberia begins to break up in May, and summer
advances with rapid strides upon its retreating footsteps, covering
instantly with grass and flowers the ground that it reclaims from
the melting snow-drifts of winter. Hardly is the snow off the ground
before the delicate wax-like petals of the blueberry and star-flower,
and the great snowy clusters of labrador tea begin to whiten the mossy
plains; the birches, willows, and alders burst suddenly into leaf, the
river banks grow green with a soft carpet of grass, and the warm still
air is filled all day with the trumpet-like cries of wild swans and
geese, as they come in great triangular flocks from the sea and
pass high overhead toward the far North. In three weeks after the
disappearance of the last snow all Nature has put on the garments of
midsummer and rejoices in almost perpetual sunshine. There is no long
wet, lingering spring, no gradual unfolding of buds and leaves one by
one as with us. The vegetation, which has been held in icy fetters
for eight long months, bursts suddenly its bonds, and with one great
irresistible sweep takes the world by storm. There is no longer any
night; one day blends almost imperceptibly into another, with only a
short interval of twilight, which has all the coolness and repose of
night without its darkness. You may sit by your open window and read
until twelve o'clock, inhaling the fragrance of flowers which is
brought to you on the cool night wind, listening to the murmur and
plash of the river in the valley below, and tracing the progress of
the hidden sun by the flood of rosy light which streams up in the
North from behind the purple mountains. It is broad daylight, and yet
all Nature is asleep, and a strange mysterious stillness, like that
of a solar eclipse, pervades heaven and earth. You can even hear the
faint roar of the surf on the rocky coast ten miles away. Now and then
a song-sparrow hidden in the alder thicket by the river bank dreams
that it is morning and breaks out into a quick unconscious trill of
melody; but as he wakes he stops himself suddenly and utters a few
"peeps" of perplexity, as if not quite sure whether it be morning, or
only last evening, and whether he ought to sing or go to sleep again.
He finally seems to decide upon the latter course, and all becomes
silent once more save the murmur of the river over its rocky bed and
the faint roar of the distant sea. Soon after one o'clock a glittering
segment of the sun appears between the cloud-like peaks of the distant
mountains, a sudden flash of golden light illumines the green dewy
landscape, the little sparrow in the alder thicket triumphantly takes
up again his unfinished song, the ducks, geese, and aquatic birds
renew their harsh discordant cries from the marshy flats along the
river, and all animated nature wakes suddenly to a consciousness of
daylight as if it were a new thing. There has been no night--but it is
another day.

The traveller who has never before experienced an arctic summer, and
who has been accustomed to think of Siberia as a land of eternal snow
and ice, cannot help being astonished at the sudden and wonderful
development of animal and vegetable life throughout that country in
the month of June, and the rapidity of the transition from winter to
summer in the course of a few short weeks. In the early part of June
it is frequently possible to travel in 'the vicinity of Gizhiga upon
dog-sledges, while by the last of the same month the trees are all in
full leaf, primroses, cowslips, buttercups, valerian, cinquefoil, and
labrador tea, blossom everywhere upon the higher plains and river
banks, and the thermometer at noon frequently reaches 70° Fahr. in the
shade. There is no spring, in the usual acceptation of the word, at
all. The disappearance of snow and the appearance of vegetation are
almost simultaneous; and although the _tundras_ or moss steppes,
continue for some time to hold water like a saturated sponge, they
are covered with flowers and blossoming blueberry bushes, and show no
traces of the long, cold winter which has so recently ended. In less
than a month after the disappearance of snow in 1860, I collected
from one high plain about five acres in extent, near the mouth of the
Gizhiga River, more than sixty species of flowers. Animal life of all
kinds is equally prompt in making its appearance. Long before the ice
is out of the gulfs and bays along the coast, migratory birds begin to
come in from the sea in immense numbers. Innumerable species of
ducks, geese, and swans--many of them unknown to the American
ornithologist--swarm about every little pool of water in the valleys
and upon the lower plains; gulls, fish-hawks, and eagles, keep up a
continual screaming about the mouths of the numerous rivers; and the
rocky precipitous coast of the sea is literally alive with countless
millions of red-beaked puffin or sea-parrots, which build their nests
in the crevices and upon the ledges of the most inaccessible cliffs,
and at the report of a pistol fly in clouds which fairly darken the
air. Besides these predatory and aquatic birds, there are many others
which are not so gregarious in their habits, and which, consequently,
attract less notice. Among these are the common barn and chimney
swallows, crows, ravens, magpies, thrushes, plover, ptarmigan, and
a kind of grouse known to the Russians as "teteref." Only one
singing-bird, as far as I know, is to be found in the country, and
that is a species of small ground-sparrow which frequents the drier
and more grassy plains in the vicinity of the Russian settlements.

The village of Gizhiga, where we had temporarily established our
headquarters, was a small settlement of perhaps fifty or sixty plain
log houses, situated upon the left bank of the Gizhiga River, eight or
ten miles from the gulf. It was at that time one of the most important
and flourishing settlements upon the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, and
controlled all the trade of north-eastern Siberia as far north at the
Anadyr and as far west as the village of Okhotsk. It was the residence
of a local governor, the headquarters of four or five Russian
merchants, and was visited annually by a government supply steamer,
and several trading vessels belonging to wealthy American houses.
Its population consisted principally of Siberian Cossacks and the
descendants of compulsory emigrants from Russia proper, who had
received their freedom as compensation for forcible expatriation.
Like all other _settled_ inhabitants of Siberia and Kamchatka, they
depended for their subsistence principally upon fish; but as the
country abounded in game, and the climate and soil in the valley of
the Gizhiga River permitted the cultivation of the hardier kinds of
garden vegetables, their condition was undoubtedly much better than
it would have been in Russia proper. They were perfectly free, could
dispose of their time and services as they chose, and by hiring
themselves and their dog-sledges to Russian traders in the winter,
they earned money enough to keep themselves supplied with the simpler
luxuries, such as tea, sugar, and tobacco, throughout the year. Like
all the inhabitants of Siberia, and indeed like all Russians, they
were extremely hospitable, good-natured, and obliging, and they
contributed not a little to our comfort and amusement during the long
months which we were obliged to spend in their far-away isolated
settlement.

The presence of Americans in a village so little frequented by
strangers as Gizhiga had a very enlivening influence upon society,
and as soon as the inhabitants ascertained by experiment that these
distinguished sojourners did not consider it beneath their dignity to
associate with the _prostoi narod_, or common people, they overwhelmed
us with invitations to tea-parties and evening dances. Anxious to see
more of the life of the people, and glad to do anything which would
diversify our monotonous existence, we made it a point to accept every
such invitation which we received, and many were the dances which
Arnold and I attended during the absence of the Major and the Russian
governor at Anadyrsk. We had no occasion to ask our Cossack Yagór when
there was to be another dance. The question was rather, "Where is the
dance to be tonight?" because we knew to a certainty that there would
be one somewhere, and wished only to know whether the house in which
it was to be held had a ceiling high enough to insure the safety of
our heads. It would seem like a preposterous idea to invite people to
dance the Russian jig in a room which was too low to permit a man of
average stature to stand upright; but it did not seem at all so to
these enthusiastic pleasure-seekers in Gizhiga, and night after night
they would go hopping around a seven-by-nine room to the music of a
crazy fiddle and a two-stringed guitar, stepping on one another's toes
and bumping their heads against the ceiling with the most cheerful
equanimity imaginable. At these dancing parties the Americans always
received a hearty welcome, and were fed with berries, black-bread, and
tea, until they could eat and dance no more. Occasionally, however,
Siberian hospitality took a form which, to say the least, was not
altogether pleasant. For instance, Dodd and I were invited one evening
to some kind of an entertainment at the house of one of the Cossacks,
and, as was customary in such cases, our host set before us a plain
lunch of black-bread, salt, raw frozen fish, and a small pepper-sauce
bottle about half full of some liquid which he declared to be vodka.
Knowing that there was no liquor in the settlement except what we
had, Dodd inquired where he had obtained it. He replied with evident
embarrassment that it was some which he had bought from a trading
vessel the previous fall, and which he had reserved for cases
of emergency! I didn't believe that there was a Cossack in all
north-eastern Siberia who was capable of _reserving_ a bottle of
liquor for any such length of time, and in view of his evident
uneasiness we thought best to decline to partake of the liquid
refreshments and to ask no further questions. It might be vodka, but
it was not free from suspicion. Upon our return home I called our boy
and inquired if he knew anything about the Cossack's liquor--how he
obtained it, and where it came from at that season of the year, when
none of the Russian merchants had any for sale. The boy hesitated a
moment, but upon being questioned closely he explained the mystery. It
appeared that the liquor was ours. Whenever any of the inhabitants of
the village came to call upon us, as they frequently did, especially
upon holidays, it was customary to give each one of them a drink.
Taking advantage of this custom, our friend the Cossack used to
provide himself with a small bottle, hang it about his neck with a
string, conceal it under his fur coat, and present himself at our
house every now and then for the ostensible purpose of congratulating
us upon some Russian holiday. Of course we were expected to reward
this disinterested sociability with a drink. The Cossack would swallow
all he could of the fiery stuff, and then holding as much as possible
in his mouth he would make a terrible grimace, cover his face with one
hand as if the liquor were very strong, and start hurriedly for the
kitchen to get some water. As soon as he was secure from observation
he would take out his bottle, deposit in it the last mouthful of
liquor which he had _not_ swallowed, and return in a few-moments to
thank us for our hospitality--and our vodka. This manoeuvre he had
been practising at our expense for an unknown length of time, and had
finally accumulated nearly a pint. He then had the unblushing audacity
to set this half-swallowed vodka before us in an old pepper-sauce
bottle, and pretend that it was some that he had reserved since
the previous fall for cases of emergency! Could human impudence go
farther?

I will relate one other incident which took place during the first
month of our residence at Gizhiga, and which illustrates another phase
of the popular character, viz. extreme superstition. As I was sitting
in the house one morning, drinking tea, I was interrupted by the
sudden entrance of a Russian Cossack named Kolmagórof. He seemed to
be unusually sober and anxious about something, and as soon as he had
bowed and bade me good-morning, he turned to our Cossack, Viushin,
and began in a low voice to relate to him something which had just
occurred, and which seemed to be of great interest to them both. Owing
to my imperfect knowledge of the language, and the low tone in which
the conversation was carried on, I failed to catch its purport; but
it closed with an earnest request from Kolmagórof that Viushin should
give him some article of clothing, which I understood to be a scarf or
tippet. Viushin immediately went to a little closet in one corner of
the room, where he was in the habit of storing his personal effects,
dragged out a large sealskin bag, and began searching in it for the
desired article. After pulling out three or four pair of fur boots,
a lump of tallow, some dogskin stockings, a hatchet, and a bundle of
squirrelskins, he finally produced and held up in triumph one-half
of an old, dirty, moth-eaten woollen tippet, and handing it to
Kolmagórof, he resumed his search for the missing piece. This also he
presently found, in a worse state of preservation, if possible, than
the other. They looked as if they had been discovered in the bag of
some poor rag-picker who had fished them up out of a gutter in the
Five Points. Kolmagórof tied the two pieces together, wrapped them up
carefully in an old newspaper, thanked Viushin for his trouble, and,
with an air of great relief, bowed again to me and went out. Wondering
what use he could make of such a worn, dirty, tattered article of
clothing as that which he had received, I applied to Viushin for a
solution of the mystery.

"What did he want that tippet for?" I inquired; "it isn't good for
anything."

"I know," replied Viushin, "it is a miserable old thing; but there is
no other in the village, and his daughter has got the 'Anadyrski bol'"
(Anadyrsk sickness).

"Anadyrski bol!" I repeated in astonishment, never having heard of the
disease in question; "what has the 'Anadyrski bol' got to do with an
old tippet?"

"Why, you see, his daughter has asked for a tippet, and as she has
the Anadyrsk sickness, they must get one for her. It don't make any
difference about its being old."

This struck me as being a very singular explanation of a very curious
performance, and I proceeded to question Viushin more closely as to
the nature of this strange disease, and the manner in which an old
moth-eaten tippet could afford relief. The information which I
gathered was briefly as follows: The "Anadyrski bol," so called from
its having originated at Anadyrsk, was a peculiar form of disease,
resembling very much the modern spiritual "trance," which had long
prevailed in north-eastern Siberia, and which defied all ordinary
remedies and all usual methods of treatment. The persons attacked by
it, who were generally women, became unconscious of all surrounding
things, acquired suddenly an ability to speak languages which they
had never heard, particularly the Yakut language, and were gifted
temporarily with a sort of second sight or clairvoyance which enabled
them to describe accurately objects that they could not see and never
had seen. While in this state they would frequently ask for some
particular thing, whose appearance and exact location they would
describe, and unless it were brought to them they would apparently go
into convulsions, sing in the Yakut language, utter strange cries,
and behave generally as if they were insane. Nothing could quiet
them until the article for which they had asked was produced. Thus
Kolmagórof's daughter had imperatively demanded a woollen tippet,
and as the poor Cossack had nothing of the sort in the house, he
had started out through the village to find one. This was all the
information that Viushin could give me. He had never seen one of these
possessed persons himself, and had only heard of the disease from
others; but he said that Paderin, the chief of the Gizhiga Cossacks,
could undoubtedly tell me all about it, as his daughter had been
similarly afflicted. Surprised to find among the ignorant peasantry of
north-eastern Siberia a disease whose symptoms resembled so closely
the phenomena of modern spiritualism, I determined to investigate
the subject as far as possible, and as soon as the Major came in,
I persuaded him to send for Paderin. The chief of the Cossacks--a
simple, honest old fellow, whom it was impossible to suspect of
intentional deception--confirmed all that Viushin had told me, and
gave us many additional particulars. He said that he had frequently
heard his daughter talk the Yakut language while in one of these
trances, and had even known her to relate events which were occurring
at a distance of several hundred miles. The Major inquired how he knew
that it was the Yakut language which his daughter spoke. He said he
did not know certainly that it was; but it was not Russian, nor Korak,
nor any other native language with which he was familiar, and it
sounded very much like Yakut. I inquired what was done in case the
sick person demanded some article which it was impossible to obtain.
Paderin replied that he had never heard of such an instance; if the
article asked for were an uncommon one, the girl always stated where
it was to be found--frequently describing with the greatest minuteness
things which, so far as he knew, she had never seen. On one occasion,
he said his daughter asked for a particular spotted dog which he was
accustomed to drive in his team. The dog was brought into the room,
and the girl at once became quiet; but from that time the dog itself
became so wild and restless as to be almost unmanageable, and he was
finally obliged to kill him. "And do you believe in all this stuff?"
broke in the Major impatiently, as Paderin hesitated for a moment.

"I believe in God and in our Saviour Jesus Christ," replied the
Cossack, as he crossed himself devoutly.

"That's all right, and so you ought," rejoined the Major; "but that
has nothing whatever to do with the 'Anadyrski bol.' Do you really
believe that these women talk in the Yakut language, which they have
never heard, and describe things which they have never seen?"

[Illustration: TUNGUSES ON REINDEER-BACK MOVING THEIR ENCAMPMENT
Photograph in The American Museum of Natural History]

Paderin shrugged his shoulders expressively and said that he believed
what he saw. He then proceeded to relate to us further and still more
incredible particulars as to the symptoms of the disease, and the
mysterious powers which it developed in the persons attacked,
illustrating his statements by reference to the case of his own
daughter. He was evidently a firm believer in the reality of the
sickness, but would not say to what agency he ascribed the phenomena
of second sight and the ability to speak strange languages, which were
its most remarkable symptoms.

During the day we happened to call upon the ispravnik or Russian
governor, and in course of conversation mentioned the "Anadyrski bol,"
and related some of the stories which we had heard from Paderin. The
ispravnik--skeptical upon all subjects, and especially upon this--said
that he had often heard of the disease, and that his wife was a
firm believer in it, but that in his opinion it was a humbug, which
deserved no other treatment than severe corporal punishment. The
Russian peasantry, he said, were very superstitious and would believe
almost anything, and the "Anadyrski bol" was partly a delusion and
partly an imposition practised by the women upon their male relatives
to further some selfish purpose. A woman who wanted a new bonnet, and
who could not obtain it by the ordinary method of teasing, found it
very convenient as a _dernier ressort_ to fall into a trance state and
demand a bonnet as a physiological necessity. If the husband still
remained obdurate, a few well-executed convulsions and a song or two
in the so-called Yakut language were generally sufficient to bring him
to terms. He then related an instance of a Russian merchant whose wife
was attacked by the "Anadyrski bol," and who actually made a winter
journey from Gizhiga to Yamsk--a distance of 300 versts--to procure a
silk dress for which she had asked and which could not be elsewhere
obtained! Of course the women do not always ask for articles which
they might be supposed to want in a state of health. If they did, it
would soon arouse the suspicions of their deluded husbands, fathers,
and brothers, and lead to inconvenient inquiries, if not to still more
unpleasant experiment, upon the character of the mysterious disease.
To avoid this, and to blind the men to the real nature of the
deception, the women frequently ask for dogs, sledges, axes, and other
similar articles of which they can make no possible use, and thus
persuade their credulous male relatives that their demands are
governed only by diseased caprice and have in view no definite object.
Such was the rationalistic explanation which the ispravnik gave of the
curious delusion known as the "Anadyrski bol"; and although it argued
more subtlety on the part of the women and more credulity on the part
of the men than I had supposed either sex to be capable of, I could
not but admit that the explanation was a plausible one, and accounted
satisfactorily for most of the phenomena.

In view of this remarkable piece of feminine strategy, our
strong-minded women in America must admit that their Siberian sisters
show greater ingenuity in obtaining their rights and throwing dust in
the eyes of their lords and masters than has yet been exhibited by all
the Women's Rights Associations in Christendom. To invent an imaginary
disease with such peculiar symptoms, cause it to prevail as an
epidemic throughout a whole country, and use it as a lever to open
the masculine pocketbooks and supply feminine wants, is the greatest
triumph which woman's craft has ever achieved over man's stupidity.

The effect of the ispravnik's revelation upon Dodd was very singular.
He declared that he felt the premonitory symptoms of the "Anadyrski
bol" coming on, and was sure that he was destined to be a victim to
the insidious disease. He therefore requested the Major not to be
surprised if he should come home some day and find him in strong
convulsions, singing "Yankee Doodle" in the Yakut language, and
demanding his back pay! The Major assured him that, in a case of such
desperate emergency, he should be compelled to apply the ispravnik's
remedy, viz., twenty lashes on the bare back, and advised him to
postpone his convulsions until the exchequer of the Siberian Division
should be in a condition to meet his demands.

Our life at Gizhiga during the early part of June was a very decided
improvement upon the experience of the previous six months. The
weather was generally warm and pleasant, the hills and valleys were
green with luxuriant vegetation, daylight had become perpetual, and we
had nothing to do but ramble about the country in pursuit of game, row
down to the mouth of the river occasionally to look for vessels, and
plan all sorts of amusements to pass away the time.

The nights were the most glorious parts of the days, but the perpetual
light seemed even more strange to us at first than the almost
perpetual darkness of winter. We could never decide to our own
satisfaction when one day ended and another began, or when it was
time to go to bed. It seemed ridiculous to make any preparations for
retiring before the sun had set; and yet, if we did not, it was sure
to rise again before we could possibly get to sleep, and then it
seemed just as preposterous to lie in bed as it did in the first
place. We finally compromised the matter by putting tight wooden
shutters over all our windows, and then, by lighting candles inside,
succeeded in persuading our unbelieving senses that it was night,
although the sun outside was shining with noonday brilliancy. When we
awoke, however, another difficulty presented itself. Did we go to bed
today? or was it yesterday? And what time is it now? Today, yesterday,
and to-morrow were all mixed up, and we found it almost impossible to
distinguish one from the other. I caught myself repeatedly making two
entries in my journal in the course of twenty-four hours, with the
mistaken impression that two days had passed.

As soon as the ice was fairly out of Gizhiginsk Gulf, so that vessels
might be expected to enter, Major Abaza caused a number of Cossacks to
be stationed at the mouth of the river, with orders to watch night and
day for sails and warn us at once if any appeared.

On the 18th of June the trading brig _Hallie Jackson_, belonging to
W.H. Bordman, of Boston, entered the gulf, and, as soon as the tide
permitted, ran into the mouth of the river to discharge her cargo.
This vessel brought us the first news from the great outside world
which we had received in more than eleven months, and her arrival was
hailed with the greatest enthusiasm by both Russians and Americans.
Half the population of the village came hurrying down to the mouth of
the river as soon as it became known that a ship had arrived and the
landing-place for several days was a scene of unwonted activity and
excitement. The _Jackson_ could give us no information with regard
to the vessels of our Company, except that when she sailed from San
Francisco in March they were being rapidly loaded and fitted for
sea. She brought, however, all the stores which we had left at
Petropavlovsk the previous fall, as well as a large cargo of tea,
sugar, tobacco, and sundries for the Siberian trade.

We had found by our winter's experience that money could not be used
to advantage in payment for native labour, except in the settlements
of Okhotsk, Gizhiga, and Anadyrsk; and that tea, sugar, and tobacco
were in every way preferable, on account of the universal consumption
of those articles throughout the country and the high price which they
commanded during the winter months. A labourer or teamster, who would
demand _twenty_ roubles _in money_ for a month's work, was entirely
satisfied if we gave him eight pounds of tea and ten pounds of sugar
in its stead; and as the latter cost us only _ten_ roubles, we made
a saving of one-half in all our expenditures. In view of this fact,
Major Abaza determined to use as little money as possible, and pay for
labour in merchandise at current rates. He accordingly purchased from
the _Jackson_ 10,000 lbs. of tea and 15,000 or 20,000 lbs. of white
loaf-sugar, which he stored away in the government magazines, to be
used during the coming winter instead of money.

The _Jackson_ discharged all the cargo that she intended to leave at
Gizhiga, and as soon as the tide was sufficiently high to enable
her to cross the bar at the mouth of the river, she sailed for
Petropavlovsk and left us again alone.



CHAPTER XXXII


DULL LIFE--ARCTIC MOSQUITOES--WAITING FOR SUPPLIES--SHIPS
SIGNALLED--BARK "CLARA BELL"--RUSSIAN CORVETTE "VARAG"

After the departure of the _Jackson_, we began to look forward
with eager anticipation to the arrival of our own vessels and the
termination of our long imprisonment at Gizhiga. Eight months of
nomadic camp life had given us a taste for adventure and excitement
which nothing but constant travel could gratify, and as soon as the
first novelty of idleness wore off we began to tire of our compulsory
inactivity, and became impatient for work. We had exhausted all the
amusements of Gizhiga, read all the newspapers which had been brought
by the _Jackson_, discussed their contents to the minutest details,
explored every foot of ground in the vicinity of the settlement, and
tried everything which our ingenuity could devise to pass away
the time, but all to no avail. The days seemed interminable, the
long-expected ships did not come, and the mosquitoes and gnats made
our life a burden. About the tenth of July, the mosquito--that curse
of the northern summer--rises out of the damp moss of the lower
plains, and winds his shrill horn to apprise all animated nature of
his triumphant resurrection and his willingness to furnish musical
entertainment to man and beast upon extremely reasonable terms. In
three or four days, if the weather be still and warm, the whole
atmosphere will be literally filled with clouds of mosquitoes and from
that time until the 10th of August they persecute every living thing
with a bloodthirsty eagerness which knows no rest and feels no pity.
Escape is impossible and defence useless; they follow their unhappy
victims everywhere, and their untiring perseverance overcomes every
obstacle which human ingenuity can throw in their way. Smoke of
any ordinary density they treat with contemptuous indifference;
mosquito-bars they either evade or carry by assault, and only by
burying himself alive can man hope to finally escape their relentless
persecution. In vain we wore gauze veils over our heads and concealed
ourselves under calico _pologs_. The multitude of our tiny assailants
was so great that some of them sooner or later were sure to find an
unguarded opening, and just when we thought ourselves most secure we
were suddenly surprised and driven out of our shelter by a fresh and
unexpected attack. Mosquitoes, I know, do not enter into the popular
conception of Siberia; but never in any tropical country have I seen
them in such immense numbers as in north-eastern Siberia during the
month of July. They make the great moss tundras in some places utterly
uninhabitable, and force even the reindeer to seek the shelter and the
cooler atmosphere of the mountains. In the Russian settlements they
torment dogs and cattle until the latter run furiously about in a
perfect frenzy of pain, and fight desperately for a place to stand in
the smoke of a fire. As far north as the settlement of Kolyma, on the
coast of the Arctic Ocean, the natives are compelled, in still, warm
weather, to surround their houses with a circle of smudges, to protect
themselves and their domestic animals from the ceaseless persecution
of mosquitoes.

Early in July all the inhabitants of Gizhiga, with the exception of
the governor and a few Russian merchants, closed their winter-houses,
and removed to their "letovies" or summer fishing-stations along the
banks of the river, to await the arrival of the salmon. Finding the
deserted village rather dull, Dodd, Robinson, Arnold, and I removed
to the mouth of the river, and took up our quarters once more in the
empty government storehouse which we had occupied during the stay of
the _Hallie Jackson_.

I shall not dwell long upon the monotonous discomfort of the life
which we led for the next month. It may all be comprised in four
words--inactivity, disappointment, mosquitoes, and misery. Looking for
vessels was our only duty, fighting mosquitoes our only diversion; and
as the former never appeared and the latter never disappeared, both
occupations were equally unprofitable and unsatisfactory. Twenty times
a day we put on our gauze veils, tied our clothing down at the wrists
and ankles, and climbed laboriously to the summit of a high bluff to
look for vessels; but twenty times a day we returned disappointed to
our bare, cheerless rooms, and vented our indignation indiscriminately
upon the country, the Company, the ships, and the mosquitoes. We could
not help feeling as if we had dropped out of the great current of
human affairs, as if our places in the distant busy world had been
filled and our very existence forgotten.

The chief engineer of our enterprise had promised faithfully that
ships with men, material, and supplies for the immediate prosecution
of the work, should be at Gizhiga and at the mouth of the Anadyr River
as early in the season as ice would permit them to enter; but it was
now August, and they had not yet made their appearance. Whether they
had been lost, or whether the whole enterprise had been abandoned,
we could only conjecture; but as week after week passed away without
bringing any news, we gradually lost all hope and began to discuss the
advisability of sending some one to the Siberian capital to inform the
Company by telegraph of our situation.

It is but justice to Major Abaza to say that during all these long
weary months of waiting he never entirely gave up to discouragement,
or allowed himself to doubt the perseverance of the Company in the
work which it had undertaken. The ships might have been belated or
have met with some misfortune, but he did not think it possible that
the work had been abandoned, and he continued throughout the summer to
make such preparations as he could for another winter's campaign.

Early in August, Dodd and I, tired of looking for vessels which never
came, and which we firmly believed never would come, returned on foot
to the settlement, leaving Arnold and Robinson to maintain the watch
at the mouth of the river.

Late in the afternoon of the 14th, while I was busily engaged in
drawing maps to illustrate the explorations of the previous winter,
our Cossack servant came rushing furiously into the house, breathless
with haste and excitement, crying out: "Pooshka! soodna!"--"A cannon!
a ship!" Knowing that three cannon-shots were the signals which Arnold
and Robinson had been directed to make in case a vessel was seen
entering the gulf, we ran hurriedly out of doors and listened eagerly
for a second report. We had not long to wait. Another faint, dull
explosion was heard in the direction of the lighthouse, followed at an
interval of a moment by a third, leaving no room for a doubt that the
long-expected ships had arrived. Amid great excitement a canoe was
hastily prepared and launched, and taking our seats upon bearskins
in the bottom, we ordered our Cossack rowers to push off. At every
_letoie_ or fishing-station which we passed in our rapid descent of
the river, we were hailed with shouts of: "Soodnat soodna"--"Aship!
aship!" and at the last one--Volinkina (vo-lin'-kin-ah)--where we
stopped for a moment to rest our men, we were told that the vessel was
now in plain sight from the hills, and that she had anchored near an
island known as the Matuga (mat'-oo-gah), about twelve miles distant
from the mouth of the river. Assured that it was no false alarm, we
pushed on with redoubled speed, and in fifteen minutes more landed at
the head of the gulf. Arnold and Robinson, with the Russian pilot,
Kerrillof, had already gone off to the vessel in the government
whale-boat, so that there remained nothing for us to do but climb to
the summit of lighthouse bluff and watch impatiently for their return.

It was late in the afternoon when the signal of a vessel in sight had
been given, and by the time we reached the mouth of the river, it was
nearly sunset. The ship, which was a good-sized bark, lay quietly at
anchor near the middle of the gulf, about twelve miles distant, with
a small American flag flying at her peak. We could see the government
whale-boat towing astern, and knew that Arnold and Robinson must be
on board; but the ship's boats still hung at the davits, and no
preparations were apparently being made to come ashore. The Russian
governor had made us promise, when we left the settlement, that if the
reported vessel turned out a reality and not a delusion, we would
fire three more guns. Frequent disappointment had taught him the
fallibility of human testimony touching the arrival of ships at that
particular port, and he did not propose to make a journey to the
lighthouse in a leaky canoe, unless further intelligence should fully
justify it. As there could no longer be any doubt about the fact, we
loaded up the old rusty cannon once more, stuffed it full of wet grass
to strengthen its voice, and gave the desired signals, which echoed in
successive crashes from every rocky promontory along the coast, and
died away to a faint mutter far out at sea.

In the course of an hour the governor made his appearance, and as it
was beginning to grow dark, we all climbed once more to the summit of
the bluff to take a last look at the ship before she should be hidden
from sight. There was no appearance of activity on board, and the
lateness of the hour made it improbable that Arnold and Robinson would
return before morning. We went back therefore to the empty government
house, or "kazarm," and spent half the night in fruitless conjectures
as to the cause of the vessel's late arrival and the nature of the
news which she would bring.

With the earliest morning twilight, Dodd and I clambered again to the
crest of the bluff, to assure ourselves by actual observation that
the ship had not vanished like the _Flying Dutchman_ under cover of
darkness, and left us to mourn another disappointment. There was
little ground for fear. Not only was the bark still in the position
which she had previously occupied, but there had been another arrival
during the night. A large three-masted steamer, of apparently 2000
tons, was lying in the offing, and three small boats could be seen a
few miles distant pulling swiftly toward the mouth of the river.
Great was the excitement which this discovery produced. Dodd rushed
furiously down the hill to the _kazarm_, shouting to the Major that
there was a steamer in the gulf, and that boats were within five miles
of the lighthouse. In a few moments we were all gathered in a group on
the highest point of the bluff, speculating upon the character of the
mysterious steamer which had thus taken us by surprise, and watching
the approach of the boats. The largest of these was now within three
miles, and our glasses enabled us to distinguish in the long, regular
sweep of its oars, the practised stroke of a man-of-war's crew, and in
its stem-sheets the peculiar shoulder-straps of Russian officers. The
steamer was evidently a large war-ship, but what had, brought her to
that remote, unfrequented part of the world we could not conjecture.

In half an hour more, two of the boats were abreast of lighthouse
bluff, and we descended to the landing-place to meet them in a state
of excitement not easily imagined. Fourteen months had elapsed since
we had heard from home, and the prospect of receiving letters and
of getting once more to work was a sufficient excuse for unusual
excitement. The smallest boat was the first to reach the shore, and as
it grated on the sandy beach an officer in blue naval uniform sprang
out and introduced himself as Captain Sutton, of the Russian-American
Telegraph Company's bark _Clara Bell_, two months from San Francisco,
with men and material for the construction of the line. "Where have
you been all summer?" demanded the Major as he shook hands with the
captain; "we have been looking for you ever since June, and had about
come to the conclusion that the work was abandoned." Captain Sutton
replied that all of the Company's vessels had been late in leaving
San Francisco, and that he had also been detained some time in
Petropavlovsk by circumstances explained in his letters. "What steamer
is that lying at anchor beyond the _Clara Bell_?" inquired the Major.
"That is the Russian corvette _Varag_, from Japan."--"But what is she
doing up here?" "Why," said the captain with a quizzical smile, "you
ought to know, sir; I understand that she reports to you for orders. I
believe she has been detailed by the Russian Government to assist in
the construction of the line; at least that was what I was told when
we met her at Petropavlovsk. She has a Russian Commissioner on board,
and a correspondent of the _New York Herald_." This was unexpected
news. We had heard that the Navy Departments of Russia and the United
States had been instructed to send ships to Bering Sea to assist the
Company in making soundings and laying down the cable between the
American and Siberian coasts, but we had never expected to see either
of these vessels at Gizhiga. The simultaneous arrival of a loaded
bark, a steam corvette, a Russian Commissioner, and a correspondent
of the _New York Herald_ certainly looked like business, and we
congratulated ourselves and each other upon the improving prospects of
the Siberian Division.

The corvette's boat by this time had reached the shore, and after
making the acquaintance of Mr. Anóssof, Colonel Knox, the _Herald_
correspondent, and half a dozen Russian officers who spoke English
with the greatest fluency, we proceeded to open and read our
long-delayed mail.

The news, as far as it related to the affairs of the Company and the
prospects of the enterprise, was very satisfactory. Colonel Bulkley,
the engineer-in-chief, had touched at Petropavlovsk on his way north,
and had written us from there, by the _Varag_ and the _Clara Bell_,
full particulars as to his movements and dispositions. Three
vessels--the _Clara Bell, Palmetto_, and _Onward_--had been sent from
San Francisco to Gizhiga with a force of about sixty men, and large
assorted cargoes to the value of sixty thousand dollars. One of these,
the _Clara Bell_, loaded with brackets and insulators, had already
arrived; and the other two, with commissary stores, wire, instruments,
and men, were _en route_. A fourth vessel with thirty officers and
workmen, a small river-steamer, and a full supply of tools and
provisions, had also been sent to the mouth of the Anadyr River, where
it would be received by Lieutenant Bush. The corvette _Varag_ had been
detailed by the Russian Navy Department to assist in laying the cable
across Bering Strait; but as the cable, which was ordered in England,
had not arrived, there was nothing in particular for the _Varag_ to
do, and Colonel Bulkley had sent her with the Russian Commissioner to
Gizhiga. Owing to her great draught of water--twenty-two feet--she
could not safely come within less than fifteen or twenty miles of the
Okhotsk Sea coast, and could not, of course, give us much assistance;
but her very presence, with a special Russian Commissioner on board,
invested our enterprise with a sort of governmental authority and
sanction, which enabled us to deal more successfully with the local
authorities and people than would otherwise have been possible.

It had been Major Abaza's intention, as soon as one of the Company's
vessels should arrive, to go to the Russian city and province of
Yakutsk, on the Lena River, engage there five or six hundred native
labourers, purchase three hundred horses, and make arrangements for
their distribution along the whole route of the line. The peculiar
state of affairs, however, at the time the _Varag_ and the _Clara
Bell_ reached Gizhiga, made it almost impossible for him to leave.
Two vessels--the _Onward_ and the _Palmetto_--were yet to arrive with
large and valuable cargoes, whose distribution along the coast of the
Okhotsk Sea he wished to superintend in person. He decided, therefore,
to postpone his trip to Yakutsk until later in the fall, and to do
what he could in the meantime with the two vessels already at his
disposal. The _Clara Bell_, in addition to her cargo of brackets and
insulators, brought a foreman and three or four men as passengers,
and these Major Abaza determined to send under command of Lieutenant
Arnold to Yamsk, with orders to hire as many native labourers as
possible and begin at once the work of cutting poles and preparing
station-houses. The _Varag_ he proposed to send with stores and
despatches to Mahood, who had been living alone at Okhotsk almost five
months without news, money, or provisions, and who it was presumed
must be nearly discouraged.

On the day previous to the _Varag's_ departure, we were all invited by
her social and warm-hearted officers to a last complimentary dinner;
and although we had not been and should not be able with our scanty
means to reciprocate such attentions, we felt no hesitation in
accepting the invitation and tasting once more the pleasures of
civilised life. Nearly all the officers of the _Varag_, some thirty in
number, spoke English; the ship itself was luxuriously fitted up; a
fine military band welcomed us with "Hail, Columbia!" when we came
on board, and played selections from _Martha, Traviata_, and _Der
Freischütz_ while we dined, and all things contributed to make our
visit to the _Varag_ a bright spot in our Siberian experience.

On the following morning at ten o'clock, we returned to the _Clara
Bell_ in one of the latter's small-boats, and the corvette steamed
slowly out to sea, her officers waving their hats from the
quarter-deck in mute farewell, and her band playing the Pirate's
Chorus--"Ever be happy and blest as thou art"--as if in mockery of our
lonely, cheerless exile! It was a gloomy party of men which returned
that afternoon to a supper of reindeer-meat and cabbage in the bare
deserted rooms of the government storehouse at Gizhiga! We realised
then, if never before, the difference between _life_ in "God's
country" and _existence_ in north-eastern Asia.

As soon as possible after the departure of the _Varag_, the _Clara
Bell_ was brought into the mouth of the river, her cargo of brackets
and insulators discharged, Lieutenant Arnold and party sent on board,
and with the next high tide, August 26th, she sailed for Yamsk and
San Francisco, leaving no one at Gizhiga but the original Kamchatkan
party, Dodd, the Major, and myself.



CHAPTER XXXIII


ARRIVAL OF BARK "PALMETTO"--DRIVEN ASHORE BY GALE--DISCHARGING
CARGO UNDER DIFFICULTIES--NEGRO CREW MUTINIES--LONELY TRIP TO
ANADYRSK--STUPID KORAKS--EXPLOSIVE PROVISIONS

The brief excitement produced by the arrival of the _Varag_ and the
_Clara Bell_ was succeeded by another long, dreary month of waiting,
during which we lived as before in lonely discomfort at the mouth of
the Gizhiga River. Week after week passed away without bringing any
tidings from the missing ships, and at last the brief northern summer
closed, snow appeared upon the mountains, and heavy long-continued
storms announced the speedy approach of another winter. More than
three months had elapsed since the supposed departure of the _Onward_
and _Palmetto_ from San Francisco, and we could account for their
non-appearance only by the supposition that they had either been
disabled or lost at sea. On the 18th of September, Major Abaza
determined to send a messenger to the Siberian capital, to telegraph
the Company for instructions. Left as we were at the beginning of a
second winter without men, tools, or materials of any kind, except
50,000 insulators and brackets, we could do nothing toward the
construction of the line, and our only resource was to make our
unpleasant situation known to the Company. On the 19th, however,
before this resolution could be carried into effect, the long-expected
bark _Palmetto_ arrived, followed closely by the Russian
supply-steamer _Saghalin_, from Nikolaievsk. The latter, being
independent of wind and drawing very little water, had no difficulty
in crossing the bar and gaining the shelter of the river; but the
_Palmetto_ was compelled to anchor outside and await a higher tide.
The weather, which for several days had been cold and threatening,
grew momentarily worse, and on the 22d the wind was blowing a
close-reefed-topsail gale from the south-east, and rolling a
tremendous sea into the unprotected gulf. We felt the most serious
apprehensions for the safety of the unfortunate bark; but as the water
would not permit her to cross the bar at the mouth of the river,
nothing could be done until another high tide. On the 23d, it became
evident that the _Palmetto_--upon which now rested all our hopes--must
inevitably go ashore. She had broken her heaviest anchor, and was
drifting slowly but surely against the rocky, precipitous coast on the
eastern side of the river, where nothing could prevent her from being
dashed to pieces. As there was now no other alternative, Captain
Arthur slipped his cable, got his ship under way, and stood directly
in for the mouth of the river. He could no longer avoid going ashore
somewhere, and it was better to strike on a yielding bar of sand than
to drift helplessly against a black perpendicular wall of rock, where
destruction would be certain. The bark came gallantly in until she
was only half a mile distant from the lighthouse, and then grounded
heavily in about seven feet of water. As soon as she struck she began
pounding with tremendous violence against the bottom while the seas
broke in great white clouds of spray entirely over her quarter-deck.
It did not seem probable, that she would live through the night. As
the tide rose, however, she drove farther and farther in toward the
mouth of the river until, at full flood, she was only a quarter of
a mile distant. Being a very strongly built ship, she suffered less
damage than we had supposed, and, as the tide ran out, she lay high
and dry on the bar, with no more serious injury than the loss of her
false keel and a few sections of her copper sheathing.

As she was lying on her beam-ends, with her deck careened at an angle
of forty-five degrees, it was impossible to hoist anything out of her
hold, but we made preparations at once to discharge her cargo in boats
as soon as another tide should raise her into an upright position.
We felt little hope of being able to save the ship, but it was
all-important that her cargo should be discharged before she should go
to pieces. Captain Tobézin, of the Russian steamer _Saghalin_, offered
us the use of all his boats and the assistance of his crew, and on the
following day we began work with six or seven boats, a large lighter,
and about fifty men. The sea still continued to run very high; the
bark recommenced her pounding against the bottom; the lighter swamped
and sank with a full load about a hundred yards from shore, and a
miscellaneous assortment of boxes, crates, and flour-barrels went
swimming up the river with the tide. Notwithstanding all these
misfortunes, we kept perseveringly at work with the boats as long as
there was water enough around the bark to float them, and by the time
the tide ran out we could congratulate ourselves upon having saved
provisions enough to insure us against starvation, even though the
ship should go to pieces that night. On the 25th, the wind abated
somewhat in violence, the sea went down, and as the bark did not seem
to be seriously injured we began to entertain some hope of saving both
ship and cargo. From the 25th until the 29th of September, all the
boats of the _Saghalin_ and of the _Palmetto_, with the crews of both
vessels, were constantly engaged in transporting stores from the bark
to the shore, and on the 30th at least half of the _Palmetto's_ cargo
was safely discharged. So far as we could judge, there would be
nothing to prevent her from going to sea with the first high tide
in October. A careful examination proved that she had sustained no
greater injury than the loss of her false keel, and this, in the
opinion of the _Saghalin's_ officers, would not make her any the
less seaworthy, or interfere to any extent with her sailing. A new
difficulty, however, presented itself. The crew of the _Palmetto were_
all negroes; and as soon as they learned that Major Abaza intended to
send the bark to San Francisco that fall, they promptly refused to go,
declaring that the vessel was unseaworthy, and that they preferred
to spend the winter in Siberia rather than risk a voyage in her to
America. Major Abaza immediately called a commission of the officers
of the _Saghalin_, and requested them to make another examination
of the bark and give him their opinion in writing as to her
seaworthiness. The examination was made, and the opinion given that
she was entirely fit for a voyage to Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, and
probably to San Francisco. This decision was read to the negroes,
but they still persisted in their refusal. After warning them of the
consequences of mutiny, the Major ordered their ringleader to be put
in irons, and he was conveyed on board the _Saghalin_ and imprisoned
in the "black hole"; but his comrades still held out. It was of vital
importance that the _Palmetto_ should go to sea with the first high
tide, because the season was already far advanced, and she must
inevitably be wrecked by ice if she remained in the river later than
the middle of October.

Besides this, Major Abaza would be compelled to leave for Yakutsk on
the steamer _Saghalin_, and the latter was now ready to go to sea. On
the afternoon of the 1st, just as the _Saghalin_ was getting up steam
to start, the negroes sent word to the Major that if he would release
the man whom he had caused to be put in irons, they would do their
best to finish unloading the _Palmetto_ and to get her back to San
Francisco. The man was promptly released, and two hours afterwards
Major Abaza sailed on the _Saghalin_ for Okhotsk, leaving us to do the
best we could with our half-wrecked stranded ship and her mutinous
crew.

The cargo of the bark was still only half discharged, and we
continued for the next five days to unload in boats, but it was hard,
discouraging work, as there were only six hours in the twenty-four
during which boats could reach the ship, and those six hours were from
eleven o'clock P.M. to five in the morning. At all other times the
ship lay on her beam-ends, and the water around her was too shallow to
float even a plank. To add, if possible, to our difficulties and to
our anxiety, the weather became suddenly colder, the thermometer fell
to zero, masses of floating ice came in with every tide and tore off
great sheets of the vessel's copper as they drifted past, and the
river soon became so choked up with icy fragments that we were obliged
to haul the boats back and forth with ropes. In spite of weather,
water, and ice, however, the vessel's cargo was slowly but steadily
discharged, and by the 10th of October nothing remained on board
except a few hogsheads of flour, some salt-beef and pork which we
did not want, and seventy-five or a hundred tons of coal. These we
determined to let her carry back to San Francisco as ballast. The
tides were now getting successively higher and higher every day, and
on the 11th the _Palmetto_ floated for the first time in almost three
weeks. As soon as her keel cleared the bar she was swung around into
the channel, head to sea, and moored with light kedge-anchors, ready
for a start on the following day. Since the intensely cold weather of
the previous week, her crew of negroes had expressed no further
desire to spend a winter in Siberia, and, unless the wind should veer
suddenly to the southward, we could see nothing to prevent her from
getting safely out of the river. The wind for once proved favourable,
and at 2 P.M. on the 12th of October the _Palmetto_ shook out her
long-furled courses and topsails, cut the cables of her kedge-anchors,
and with a light breeze from the north-east, moved slowly out into the
gulf. Never was music more sweet to my ears than the hearty "Yo heave
ho!" of her negro crew as they sheeted home the topgallant sails
outside the bar! The bark was safely at sea. She was not a day too
soon in making her escape. In less than a week after her departure,
the river and the upper part of the gulf were so packed with ice that
it would have been impossible for her to move or to avoid total wreck.

The prospects of the enterprise at the opening of the second winter
were more favourable than they had been at any time since its
inception. The Company's vessels, it is true, had been very late in
their arrival, and one of them, the _Onward_, had not come at all;
but the _Palmetto_ had brought twelve or fourteen more men and a full
supply of tools and provisions, Major Abaza had gone to Yakutsk to
hire six or eight hundred native labourers and purchase three hundred
horses, and we hoped that the first of February would find the work
progressing rapidly along the whole extent of the line.

As soon as possible after the departure of the _Palmetto_, I sent
Lieutenant Sandford and the twelve men whom she had brought into the
woods on the Gizhiga River above the settlement, supplied them with
axes, snow-shoes, dog-sledges, and provisions, and set them at work
cutting poles and building houses, to be distributed across the
steppes between Gizhiga and Penzhinsk Gulf. I also sent a small party
of natives under Mr. Wheeler to Yamsk, with five or six sledge-loads
of axes and provisions for Lieutenant Arnold, and despatches to be
forwarded to Major Abaza. For the present, nothing more could be done
on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, and I prepared to start once more
for the north. We had heard nothing whatever from Lieutenant Bush
and party since the first of the previous May, and we were of course
anxious to know what success he had met with in cutting and rafting
poles down the Anadyr River, and what were his prospects and plans for
the winter. The late arrival of the _Palmetto_ at Gizhiga had led us
to fear that the vessel destined for the Anadyr might also have
been detained and have placed Lieutenant Bush and party in a very
unpleasant if not dangerous situation. Major Abaza had directed me,
therefore, when he sailed for Okhotsk, to go by the first winter road
to Anadyrsk and ascertain whether the Company's vessels had been at
the mouth of the river, and whether Bush needed any assistance. As
there was no longer anything to detain me at Gizhiga, I packed up my
camp-equipage and extra fur clothes, loaded five sledges with tea,
sugar, tobacco, and provisions, and on November 2d started with six
Cossacks for my last journey to the Arctic Circle.

In all my Siberian experience I can recall no expedition which was so
lonely and dismal as this. For the sake of saving transportation, I
had decided not to take any of my American comrades with me; but by
many a silent camp-fire did I regret my self-denying economy, and
long for the hearty laugh and good-humoured raillery of my "fidus
Achates"--Dodd. During twenty-five days I did not meet a civilised
being or speak a word of my native language, and at the end of that
time I should have been glad to talk to an intelligent American dog.
"Aloneness," says Beecher, "is to social life what rests are to
music"; but a journey made up entirely of "aloneness" is no more
entertaining than a piece of music made up entirely of rests--only a
vivid imagination can make anything out of either.

[Illustration: A YURT OF THE SETTLED KORAKS IN MIDWINTER]

At Kuil, on the coast of Penzhinsk Gulf, I was compelled to leave
my good-humoured Cossacks and take for drivers half a dozen stupid,
sullen, shaven-headed Koraks, and from that time I was more lonesome
than ever. I had been able to talk a little with the Cossacks, and
had managed to pass away the long winter evenings by the camp-fire in
questioning them about their peculiar beliefs and superstitions, and
listening to their characteristic stories of Siberian life; but now,
as I could not speak the Korak language, I was absolutely without any
resource for amusement.

My new drivers were the ugliest, most villainous-looking Koraks that
it would have been possible to select in all the Penzhinsk Gulf
settlements, and their obstinacy and sullen stupidity kept me in
a chronic state of ill-humour from the time we left Kuil until we
reached Penzhina. Only by threatening them periodically with a
revolver could I make them go at all. The art of camping out
comfortably in bad weather they knew nothing whatever about, and in
vain did I try to teach them. In spite of all my instructions and
illustrations, they would persist night after night in digging a deep
narrow hole in the snow for a fire, and squatting around the top of it
like frogs around the edge of a well, while I made a camp for myself.
Of the art of cooking they were equally ignorant, and the mystery of
canned provisions they could never fathom. Why the contents of one can
should be boiled, while the contents of another precisely similar
can should be fried--why one turned into soup and another into a
cake--were questions which they gravely discussed night after
night, but about which they could never agree. Astounding were the
experiments which they occasionally tried upon the contents of these
incomprehensible tin boxes. Tomatoes they brought to me fried into
cakes with butter, peaches they mixed with canned beef and boiled for
soup, green corn they sweetened, and desiccated vegetables they broke
into lumps with stones. Never by any accident did they hit upon
the right combination, unless I stood over them constantly and
superintended personally the preparation of my own supper. Ignorant as
they were, however, of the nature of these strange American eatables,
they always manifested a great curiosity to taste them, and their
experiments in this way were sometimes very amusing. One evening, soon
after we left Shestakóva, they happened to see me eating a pickled
cucumber, and as this was something which had never come within the
range of their limited gastronomical experience, they asked me for
a piece to taste. Knowing well what the result would be, I gave the
whole cucumber to the dirtiest, worst-looking vagabond in the party,
and motioned to him to take a good bite. As he put it to his lips his
comrades watched him with breathless curiosity to see how he liked it.
For a moment his face wore an expression of blended surprise, wonder,
and disgust, which was irresistibly ludicrous, and he seemed disposed
to spit the disagreeable morsel out; but with a strong effort he
controlled himself, forced his features into a ghastly imitation
of satisfaction, smacked his lips, declared it was "akhmel
nemélkhin"--very good,--and handed the pickle to his next neighbour.
The latter was equally astonished and disgusted with its unexpected
sourness, but, rather than admit his disappointment and be laughed at
by the others, he also pretended that it was delicious, and passed it
along. Six men in succession went through with this transparent farce
with the greatest solemnity; but when they had all tasted it, and all
been victimised, they burst out into a simultaneous "ty-e-e-e" of
astonishment, and gave free expression to their long-suppressed
emotions of disgust. The vehement spitting, coughing, and washing out
of mouths with snow, which succeeded this outburst, proved that the
taste for pickles is an acquired one, and that man in his aboriginal
state does not possess it. What particularly amused me, however, was
the way in which they imposed on one another. Each individual Korak,
as soon as he found that he had been victimised, saw at once the
necessity of getting even by victimising the next man, and not one of
them would admit that there was anything bad about the pickle until
they had all tasted it. "Misery loves company," and human nature is
the same all the world over. Dissatisfied as they were with the result
of this experiment, they were not at all daunted, but still continued
to ask me for samples of every tin can I opened. Just before we
reached Penzhina, however, a catastrophe occurred which relieved
me from their importunity, and inspired them with a superstitious
reverence for tin cans which no subsequent familiarity could ever
overcome. We were accustomed, when we came into camp at night, to set
our cans into a bed of hot ashes and embers to thaw out, and I had
cautioned my drivers repeatedly not to do this until after the cans
had been opened. I could not of course explain to them that the
accumulation of steam would cause the cans to burst; but I did tell
them that it would be "atkin"--bad--if they did not make a hole in the
cover before putting the can on the fire. One evening, however, they
forgot or neglected to take this precaution, and while they were all
squatting in a circle around the fire, absorbed in meditation, one of
the cans suddenly blew up with a tremendous explosion, set free an
immense cloud of steam, and scattered fragments of boiling hot mutton
in every direction. Had a volcano opened suddenly under the camp-fire,
the Koraks could not have been more dismayed. They had not time to get
up and run away, so they rolled over backward with their heels in the
air, shouted "Kammuk!"--"The Devil!"--and gave themselves up for lost.
My hearty laughter finally reassured them, and made them a little
ashamed of their momentary panic; but from that time forward they
handled tin cans as if they were loaded percussion shells, and could
never again be induced to taste a morsel of their contents.

Our progress toward Anadyrsk after we left the coast of the Okhotsk
Sea was very slow, on account both of the shortness of the days, and
the depth and softness of the freshly fallen snow. Frequently, for ten
or fifteen miles at a stretch, we were compelled to break a road on
snow-shoes for our heavily loaded sledges, and even then our tired
dogs could hardly struggle through the soft powdery drifts. The
weather, too, was so intensely cold that my mercurial thermometer,
which indicated only -23°, was almost useless. For several days the
mercury never rose out of the bulb, and I could only estimate the
temperature by the rapidity with which my supper froze after being
taken from the fire. More than once soup turned from a liquid to a
solid in my hands, and green corn froze to my tin plate before I could
finish eating it.

On the fourteenth day after leaving Gizhiga we reached the native
settlement of Penzhina, two hundred versts from Anadyrsk. Ours was
the first arrival at that place since the previous May, and the whole
population of the village--men, women, children, and dogs--turned out
_en masse_ to meet us, with the most joyful demonstrations. Six months
had elapsed since they last saw a strange face or heard from the
outside world, and they proceeded to fire a salute from half a dozen
rusty old muskets, as a faint expression of their delight.

I had confidently expected when I left Gizhiga that I should meet
somewhere on the road a courier with news and despatches from Bush;
and I was very much disappointed and a little alarmed when I reached
Penzhina to find that no one had arrived at that place from Anadyrsk,
and that nothing had been heard from our party since the previous
spring. I felt a presentiment that something was wrong, because Bush
had been expressly directed to send a courier to Gizhiga by the first
winter road, and it was now late in November.

On the following day my worst anticipations were realised. Late in the
evening, as I was sitting in the house of one of the Russian peasants
drinking tea, the cry was raised that "Anadyrski yaydoot"--"Some one
is coming from Anadyrsk"; and running hastily out of the house I met
the long-haired Anadyrsk priest just as he stepped from his sledge in
front of the door. My first question of course was, "Where's Bush?"
But my heart sank as the priest replied: "Bokh yevo znaiet"--"God
only knows." "But where did you see him last?--Where did he spend the
summer?" I inquired. "I saw him last at the mouth of the Anadyr River,
in July," said the priest, "and since that time nothing has been heard
from him." A few more questions brought out the whole dismal story.
Bush, Macrae, Harder, and Smith had gone down the Anadyr River in June
with a large raft of station-houses, intended for erection along its
banks. After putting up these houses at necessary points, they had
gone on in canoes to Anadyr Bay, to await the arrival of the Company's
vessels from San Francisco. Here the priest had joined them and had
lived with them several weeks; but late in July their scanty supply
of provisions had given out, the expected ships had not come, and the
priest returned to the settlement, leaving the unfortunate Americans
in a half-starving condition at the mouth of the river. Since that
time nothing had been heard from them, and, as the priest mournfully
said, "God only knew" where they were and what had happened to them.
This was bad news, but it was not the worst. In consequence of the
entire failure of the salmon fisheries of the Anadyr River that
season, a terrible famine had broken out at Anadyrsk, part of the
inhabitants and nearly all the dogs had died of starvation, and the
village was almost deserted. Everybody who had dogs enough to draw a
sledge had gone in search of the Wandering Chukchis, with whom they
could live until another summer; and the few people who were left in
the settlement were eating their boots and scraps of reindeerskin to
keep themselves alive. Early in October a party of natives had gone in
search of Bush and his comrades on dog-sledges, but more than a month
had now elapsed since their departure and they had not yet returned.
In all probability they had starved to death on the great desolate
plains of the lower Anadyr, as they had been compelled to start with
only ten days' provisions, and it was doubtful whether they would meet
Wandering Chukchis who could supply them with more.

Such was the first news which I heard from the Northern District--a
famine at Anadyrsk, Bush and party absent since July, and eight
natives and dog-sledges missing since the middle of October. I did
not see how the state of affairs could be any worse, and I spent a
sleepless night in thinking over the situation and trying to decide
upon some plan of operations. Much as I dreaded another journey to the
mouth of the Anadyr in midwinter, I saw no way of avoiding it. The
fact that nothing had been heard from Bush in four months proved that
he had met with some misfortune, and it was clearly my duty to go to
Anadyr Bay in search of him if there was a possibility of doing so. On
the following morning, therefore, I began buying a supply of dog-food,
and before night I had collected 2000 dried fish and a quantity of
seals' blubber, which I felt sure would last five dog teams at least
forty days. I then sent for the chief of a band of Wandering Koraks
who happened to be encamped near Penzhina, and prevailed upon him to
drive his herd of reindeer to Anadyrsk, and kill enough to supply the
starving inhabitants with food until they could get other help. I also
sent two natives back to Gizhiga on dog-sledges, with a letter to the
Russian governor, apprising him of the famine, and another to Dodd,
directing him to load all the dog-sledges he could get with provisions
and send them at once to Penzhina, where I would make arrangements for
their transportation to the famine-stricken settlement.

I started myself for Anadyrsk on November 20th with five of the best
men and an equal number of the best dog-teams in Penzhina. These men
and dogs I intended to take with me to the mouth of the Anadyr River
if I heard nothing from Bush before I reached Anadyrsk.

[Illustration: Box for holding cups and teapot]



CHAPTER XXXIV


A MEETING IN THE NIGHT--HARDSHIPS OF BUSH'S PARTY--SIBERIAN
FAMINES--FISH SAVINGS BANKS--WORK IN THE NORTHERN DISTRICT--STARVING
POLE CUTTERS--A JOURNEY TO YAMSK

Availing ourselves of the road which had been broken by the sledges
of the priest, we made more rapid progress toward Anadyrsk than I had
anticipated, and on November 22d we camped at the foot of a range of
low mountains known as the "Russki Krebet," only thirty versts south
of the settlement. With the hope of reaching our destination before
the next morning, we had intended to travel all night; but a storm
sprang up most inopportunely just before dark and prevented us from
getting over the pass. About midnight the wind abated a little, the
moon came out occasionally through rifts in the clouds, and, fearing
that we should have no better opportunity, we roused up our tired dogs
and began the ascent of the mountain. It was a wild, lonely scene.
The snow was drifting in dense clouds down the pass, half hiding from
sight the bare white peaks on either side, and blotting out all the
landscape behind us as we ascended. Now and then the misty moonbeams
would struggle faintly through the clouds of flying snow and light up
for a moment the great barren slope of the mountain above our heads;
then they would be suddenly smothered in dark vapour, the wind would
come roaring down the ravine again, and everything would vanish in
clouds and darkness. Blinded and panting for breath, we finally gained
the summit, and as we stopped for a moment to rest our tired dogs, we
were suddenly startled by the sight of a long line of dark objects
passing swiftly across the bare mountain-top only a few yards away and
plunging down into the ravine out of which we had just come. I caught
only a glimpse of them, but they seemed to be dog-sledges, and with a
great shout we started in pursuit. Dog-sledges they were, and as we
drew nearer I recognised among them the old sealskin covered _pavoska_
which I had left at Anadyrsk the previous winter, and which I knew
must be occupied by an American. With heart beating fast from
excitement I sprang from my sledge, ran up to the _pavoska_, and
demanded in English, "Who is it?" It was too dark to recognise faces,
but I knew well the voice that answered "Bush!" and never was that
voice more welcome. For more than three weeks I had not seen a
countryman nor spoken a word of English; I was lonely and disheartened
by constantly accumulating misfortunes, when suddenly at midnight on
a desolate mountain-top, in a storm, I met an old friend and comrade
whom I had almost given up as dead. It was a joyful meeting. The
natives who had gone to Anadyr Bay in search of Bush and his party had
returned in safety, bringing Bush with them, and he was on his way to
Gizhiga to carry the news of the famine and get provisions and help.
He had been stopped by the storm as we had, and when it abated a
little at midnight we had both started from opposite sides to cross
the mountain, and had thus met upon the summit.

We went back together to my deserted camp on the south side of the
mountain, blew up the embers of my still smouldering fire, spread down
our bearskins, and sat there talking until we were as white as polar
bears with the drifting snow, and day began to break in the East.

Bush brought more bad news. They had gone down to the mouth of the
Anadyr, as the priest had already informed me, in the early part of
June, and had waited there for the Company's vessels almost four
months. Their provisions had finally given out, and they had been
compelled to subsist upon the few fish that they were able to catch
from day to day, and go hungry when they could catch none. For salt
they scraped the staves of an old pork-barrel which had been left at
Macrae's camp the previous winter, and for coffee they drank burned
rice water. At last, however, salt and rice both failed, and they were
reduced to an unvarying and often scanty diet of boiled fish, without
coffee, bread, or salt. Living in the midst of a great moss swamp
fifty miles from the nearest tree, dressing in skins for the want of
anything else, suffering frequently from hunger, tormented constantly
by mosquitoes, from which they had no protection, and looking day
after day and week after week for vessels which never came, their
situation was certainly miserable. The Company's bark _Golden Gate_
had finally arrived in October, bringing twenty-five men and a small
steamer; but winter had already set in, and five days afterwards,
before they could finish discharging the vessel's cargo, she was
wrecked by ice. Her crew and nearly all her stores were saved, but by
this misfortune the number of the party was increased from twenty-five
to forty-seven, without any corresponding increase in the quantity of
provisions for their subsistence. Fortunately, however, there were
bands of Wandering Chukchis within reach, and from them Bush succeeded
in buying a considerable number of reindeer, which he caused to be
frozen and stored away for future use. After the freezing over of the
Anadyr River, Bush was left, as Macrae had been the previous winter,
without any means of getting up to the settlement, a distance of 250
miles; but he had foreseen this difficulty, and had left orders at
Anadyrsk that if he failed to return in canoes before the river
closed, dog-sledges should be sent to his assistance. Notwithstanding
the famine the dog-sledges were sent, and Bush, with two men, had
returned on them to Anadyrsk. Finding that settlement famine-stricken
and deserted, he had started without a moment's delay for Gizhiga, his
exhausted and starving dogs dying along the road.

The situation of affairs, then, when I met Bush on the summit of the
Russki Krebet, was briefly as follows:

Forty-four men were living at the mouth of the Anadyr River, 250 miles
from the nearest settlement, without provisions enough to last them
through the winter, and without any means whatever of getting away.
The village of Anadyrsk was deserted, and with the exception of a few
teams at Penzhina, there were no available dogs in all the Northern
District, from the Okhotsk Sea to Bering Strait. Under such
circumstances, what could be done? Bush and I discussed the question
all night beside our lonely camp-fire under the Russki Krebet, but
could come to no decision, and after sleeping three or four hours
we started for Anadyrsk. Late in the afternoon we drove into the
settlement--but it could be called a settlement no longer. The two
upper villages--"Osolkin" and "Pokorukof," which on the previous
winter had presented so thriving an appearance, were now left without
a single inhabitant, and Markova itself was occupied only by a few
starving families whose dogs had all died, and who were therefore
unable to get away. No chorus of howls announced our arrival; no
people came out to meet us; the windows of the houses were closed with
wooden shutters, and half buried in drifts; the snow was unbroken by
paths, and the whole village was silent and desolate. It looked as if
one-half of the inhabitants had died and the other half had gone
to the funeral! We stopped at a small log-house where Bush had
established his headquarters, and spent the remainder of the day in
talking over our respective experiences.

The unpleasant situation in which we found ourselves placed was due
almost entirely to the famine at Anadyrsk. The late arrival and
consequent wreck of the _Golden Gate_ was of course a great
misfortune; but it would not have been irretrievable had not the
famine deprived us of all means of transportation. The inhabitants of
Anadyrsk, as well as of all the other Russian settlements in Siberia,
are dependent for their very existence upon the fish which enter the
rivers every summer to spawn, and are caught by thousands as they make
their way up-stream toward the shallow water of the tributary brooks
in the interior of the country. As long as these migrations of
the fish are regular the natives have no difficulty in providing
themselves with an abundance of food; but once in every three or four
years, for some unexplained reason, the fish fail to come, and the
following winter brings precisely such a famine as the one which I
have described at Anadyrsk, only frequently much worse. In 1860
more than a hundred and fifty natives died of starvation in four
settlements on the coast of Penzhinsk Gulf, and the peninsula of
Kamchatka has been swept by famines again and again since the Russian
conquest, until its population has been reduced more than one-half.
Were it not for the Wandering Koraks, who come to the relief of the
starving people with their immense herds of reindeer, I firmly believe
that the _settled_ population of Siberia, including the Russians,
Chuances, Yukagirs, and Kamchadals, would become extinct in less than
fifty years. The great distance of the settlements one from another,
and the absence of any means of intercommunication in summer, make
each village entirely dependent upon its own resources, and prevent
any mutual support and assistance, until it is too late to be of any
avail. The first victims of such famines are always the dogs; and the
people being thus deprived of their only means of transportation,
cannot get away from the famine-stricken settlement, and after eating
their boots, sealskin thongs, and scraps of untanned leather, they
finally die of pure starvation. For this, however, their own careless
improvidence is primarily responsible. They might catch and dry fish
enough in one year to last them three; but instead of doing this, they
provide barely food enough to last them through one winter, and
take the chances of starvation on the next. No experience, however
severe--no suffering, however great, teaches them prudence. A man who
has barely escaped starvation one winter, will run precisely the same
risk on the next, rather than take a little extra trouble and catch a
few more fish. Even when they see that a famine is inevitable, they
take no measures to mitigate its severity or to obtain relief, until
they find themselves absolutely without a morsel to put in their
mouths.

[Illustration: AN ARCTIC FUNERAL]

A native of Anadyrsk once happened to tell me, in the course of
conversation, that he had only five days' dog-food left. "But," said
I, "what do you intend to do at the end of those five days?"--"Bokh
yevo znaiet"--God only knows!--was the characteristic response,
and the native turned carelessly away as if it were a matter of no
consequence whatever. If God only knew, he seemed to think that it
made very little difference whether anybody else knew or not. After he
had fed his dogs the last dried fish in his storehouse, it would be
time enough to look about for more; but until then he did not propose
to borrow any unnecessary trouble. This well known recklessness and
improvidence of the natives finally led the Russian Government to
establish at several of the north-eastern Siberian settlements a
peculiar institution which may be called a Fish Savings Bank, or
Starvation Insurance Office. It was organised at first by the gradual
purchase from the natives of about a hundred thousand dried fish, or
_yukala_, which constituted the capital stock of the bank. Every male
inhabitant of the settlement was then obliged by law to pay into this
bank annually one-tenth of all the fish he caught, and no excuse was
admitted for a failure. The surplus fund thus created was added every
year to the capital, so that as long as the fish continued to come
regularly, the resources of the bank were constantly accumulating.
When, however, the fish for any reason failed and a famine
was threatened, every depositor--or, more strictly speaking,
tax-payer--was allowed to borrow from the bank enough fish to supply
his immediate wants, upon condition of returning the same on the
following summer, together with the regular annual payment of ten per
cent. It is evident that an institution once thoroughly established
upon such a basis, and managed upon such principles, could never fail,
but would constantly increase its capital of dried fish until the
settlement would be perfectly secure against even the possibility
of famine. At Kolyma, a Russian post on the Arctic Ocean, where the
experiment was first tried, it proved a complete success. The bank
sustained the inhabitants of the village through severe famines during
two consecutive winters, and its capital in 1867 amounted to 300,000
dried fish, and was accumulating at the rate of 20,000 a year.
Anadyrsk, not being a Russian military post, had no bank of this kind;
but had our work been continued another year, we intended to petition
the Government for the organisation of such institutions at all the
settlements, Russian and native, along the whole route of our line.

In the meantime, however, the famine was irremediable, and on December
1, 1867, poor Bush found himself in a deserted settlement 600 versts
from Gizhiga without money, without provisions, and without means of
transportation--but with a helpless party of forty-four men, at the
mouth of the Anadyr River, dependent upon him for support. Building a
telegraph line under such circumstances was out of the question. All
that he could hope to do would be to keep his parties supplied with
provisions until the arrival of horses and men from Yakutsk should
enable him to resume work.

On November 29th, finding that I could be of no further assistance at
Anadyrsk, and that I was only helping to eat up more rapidly Bush's
scanty supply of provisions, I started with two Penzhina sledges for
Gizhiga. As I did not again visit the Northern District, and shall
have no further occasion to refer to it, I will relate briefly here
the little which I afterward learned by letter with regard to the
misfortunes and unhappy experiences of the Company's employés in that
region. The sledges that I had ordered from Gizhiga reached Penzhina
late in December, with about 3000 pounds of beans, rice, hard-bread,
and assorted stores. As soon as possible after their arrival Bush sent
half a dozen sledges and a small quantity of provisions to the party
at the mouth of the Anadyr River and in February they returned,
bringing six men. Determined to accomplish something, however
little, Bush sent these six men to a point on the Myan River, about
seventy-five versts from Anadyrsk, and set them at work on snow-shoes
cutting poles along the route of the line. Later in the winter another
expedition was sent to Anadyr Bay, and on the 4th of March it also
returned, bringing Lieutenant Macrae and seven more men. This party
experienced terrible weather on its way from the mouth of the river
to Anadyrsk, and one of its members--a man named Robinson--died in
a storm about 150 versts east of the settlement. His body was left
unburied in one of the houses which Bush had erected the previous
summer and his comrades pushed on. As soon as they reached Anadyrsk
they were sent to the Myan, and by the middle of March the two parties
together had cut and distributed along the banks of that river about
3000 poles. In April, however, their provisions began again to run
short, they were gradually reduced to the verge of starvation,
and Bush started a second time for Gizhiga with a few miserable
half-starved and exhausted dog-teams, to get more provisions. During
his absence the unfortunate parties on the Myan were left to take
care of themselves, and after consuming their last morsel of food and
eating up three horses which had previously been sent to them from
Anadyrsk, they organised themselves into a forlorn hope, and started
on snow-shoes for the settlement. It was a terrible walk for
half-starving men; and although they reached their destination in
safety, they were entirely exhausted, and when they approached the
village could hardly go a hundred yards at a time without falling.
At Anadyrsk they succeeded in obtaining a small quantity of
reindeer-meat, upon which they lived until the return of Lieutenant
Bush from Gizhiga with provisions, some time in May. Thus ended the
second winter's work in the Northern District. As far as practical
results were concerned, it was an almost complete failure; but it
developed in our officers and men a courage, a perseverance, and a
patient endurance of hardships which deserved, and which under more
favourable auspices would have achieved, the most brilliant success.
In the month of February, while Mr. Norton and his men were at work
on the Myan River, the thermometer indicated more than forty degrees
below zero during sixteen days out of twenty-one, sank five times to
-60° and once to -68°, or one hundred degrees below the freezing point
of water. Cutting poles on snow-shoes, in a temperature ranging
from 40° to 60° below zero is, in itself, no slight trial of men's
hardihood; but when to this are added the sufferings of hunger and the
peril of utter starvation in a perfect wilderness, it passes human
endurance, and the only wonder is that Norton and Macrae could
accomplish as much as they did.

Returning from Anadyrsk, I reached Gizhiga on the 15th of December,
after a hard and lonely journey of sixteen days. A special courier
had just arrived there from Yakutsk, bringing letters and orders from
Major Abaza.

He had succeeded, with the sanction and cooperation of the governor of
that province, in hiring for a period of three years a force of eight
hundred Yakut labourers, at a fixed rate of sixty rubles, or about
forty dollars a year for each man. He had also purchased three hundred
Yakut horses and pack-saddles, and an immense quantity of material
and provisions of various kinds for the equipment and subsistence of
horses and workmen. A portion of these men were already on their way
to Okhotsk, and the whole force would be sent thither in successive
detachments as rapidly as possible, and distributed from there along
the whole route of the line. It would be necessary, of course, to
put this large force of native labourers under skilled American
superintendence; and as we had not foremen enough in all our parties
to oversee more than five or six gangs of men, Major Abaza determined
to send a courier to Petropavlovsk for the officers who had sailed
from San Francisco in the bark _Onward_, and who he presumed had been
landed by that vessel in Kamchatka. He directed me, therefore, to make
arrangements for the transportation of these men from Petropavlovsk to
Gizhiga; to prepare immediately for the reception of fifty or sixty
Yakut labourers; to send six hundred army rations to Yamsk for the
subsistence of our American party there, and three thousand pounds of
rye flour for a party of Yakuts who would reach there in February.
To fill all these requisitions I had at my disposal about fifteen
dog-sledges, and even these had gone with provisions to Penzhina for
the relief of Lieutenant Bush. With the assistance of the Russian
governor I succeeded in getting two Cossacks to go to Petropavlovsk
after the Americans who were presumed to have been left there by the
_Onward_, and half a dozen Koraks to carry provisions to Yamsk, while
Lieutenant Arnold himself sent sledges for the six hundred rations. I
thus retained my own fifteen sledges to supply Lieutenant Sandford
and party, who were now cutting poles on the Tilghai River, north of
Penzhinsk Gulf. One day late in December, while Dodd and I were out
on the river above the settlement training a team of dogs, word was
brought to us that an American had arrived from Kamchatka, bringing
news from the long-missing bark _Onward_ and the party of men whom
she landed at Petropavlovsk. Hurrying back to the village with all
possible speed, we found Mr. Lewis, the American in question, seated
comfortably in our house drinking tea. This enterprising young
man--who, by the way, was a telegraph operator, wholly unaccustomed
to rough life--without being able to speak a word of Russian, had
traversed alone, in mid-winter, the whole wilderness of Kamchatka from
Petropavlovsk to Gizhiga. He had been forty-two days on the road, and
had travelled on dog-sledges nearly twelve hundred miles, with no
companions except a few natives and a Cossack from Tigil. He seemed
disposed to look upon this achievement very modestly, but in some
respects it was one of the most remarkable journeys ever made by one
of the Company's employés.

The _Onward_, as we had supposed, being unable to reach Gizhiga, on
account of the lateness of the season, had discharged her cargo and
landed most of her passengers at Petropavlovsk; and Mr. Lewis had been
sent by the chief of the party to report their situation to Major
Abaza, and find out what they should do.

After the arrival of Mr. Lewis nothing of special importance occurred
until March. Arnold at Yamsk, Sandford on the Tilghai, and Bush at
Anadyrsk, were trying, with the few men they had, to accomplish some
work; but, owing to deep snow-storms, intensely cold weather, and a
general lack everywhere of provisions and dogs, their efforts were
mostly fruitless. In January I made an excursion with twelve or
fifteen sledges to Sandford's camp on the Tilghai, and attempted to
move his party to another point thirty or forty versts nearer Gizhiga;
but in a severe storm on the Kuil steppe we were broken up, dispersed,
and all lost separately, and after wandering around four or five
days in clouds of drifting snow which hid even our dogs from sight,
Sandford with a portion of his party returned to the Tilghai, and I
with the remainder to Gizhiga.

Late in February the Cossack Kolmagórof arrived from Petropavlovsk,
Kamchatka, bringing three of the men who had been landed there by the
_Onward_.

In March I received by a special courier from Yakutsk another letter
and more orders from Major Abaza. The eight hundred labourers whom he
had engaged were being rapidly sent forward to Okhotsk, and more than
a hundred and fifty were already at work at that place and at Yamsk.
The equipment and transportation of the remainder still required his
personal supervision, and it would be impossible, he wrote, for him to
return that winter to Gizhiga. He could come however, as far as
the settlement of Yamsk, three hundred versts west of Gizhiga, and
requested me to meet him at that place within twelve days after the
receipt of his letter. I started at once with one American companion
named Leet, taking twelve days' dog-food and provisions.

The country between Gizhiga and Yamsk was entirely different in
character from anything which I had previously seen in Siberia. There
were no such great desolate plains as those between Gizhiga and
Anadyrsk and in the northern part of Kamchatka. On the contrary, the
whole coast of the Okhotsk Sea, for nearly six hundred miles west
of Gizhiga, was one wilderness of rugged, broken, almost impassable
mountains, intersected by deep valleys and ravines, and heavily
timbered with dense pine and larch forests. The Stanavoi range of
mountains, which sweeps up around the Okhotsk Sea from the Chinese
frontier, keeps everywhere near the coast line, and sends down between
its lateral spurs hundreds of small rivers and streams which run
through deep wooded valleys to the sea. The road, or rather the
travelled route from Gizhiga to Yamsk, crosses all these streams and
lateral spurs at right angles, keeping about midway between the great
mountain range and the sea. Most of the dividing ridges between these
streams are nothing but high, bare watersheds, which can be easily
crossed; but at one point, about a hundred and fifty versts west of
Gizhiga, the central range sends out to the seacoast, a great spur of
mountains 2500 or 3000 feet in height, which completely blocks up the
road. Along the bases of these mountains runs a deep, gloomy valley
known as the Viliga, whose upper end pierces the central Stanavoi
range and affords an outlet to the winds pent up between the steppes
and the sea. In winter when the open water of the Okhotsk Sea is
warmer than the frozen plains north of the mountains, the air over the
former rises, and a colder atmosphere rushes through the valley of the
Viliga to take its place. In summer, while the water of the sea is
still chilled with masses of unmelted ice, the great steppes behind
the mountains are covered with vegetation and warm with almost
perpetual sunshine, and the direction of the wind is consequently
reversed. This valley of the Viliga, therefore, may be regarded as
a great natural breathing-hole, through which the interior steppes
respire once a year. At no other point does the Stanavoi range afford
an opening through which the air can pass back and forth between the
steppes and the sea, and as a natural consequence this ravine is swept
by one almost uninterrupted storm. While the weather everywhere else
is calm and still, the wind blows through the Viliga in a perfect
hurricane, tearing up great clouds of snow from the mountain sides and
carrying them far out to sea. For this reason it is dreaded by all
natives who are compelled to pass that way, and is famous throughout
north-eastern Siberia as "the stormy gorge of the Viliga!"

On the fifth day after leaving Gizhiga, our small party, increased
by a Russian postilion and three or four sledges carrying the annual
Kamchatkan mail, drew near the foot of the dreaded Viliga Mountains.
Owing to deep snow our progress had not been so rapid as we had
anticipated, and we were only able to reach on the fifth night a small
_yurt_ built to shelter travellers, near the mouth of a river called
the Topólofka, thirty versts from the Viliga. Here we camped, drank
tea, and stretched ourselves out on the rough plank floor to sleep,
knowing that a hard day's work awaited us on the morrow.

[Illustration: Head covering used in stalking seals]



CHAPTER XXXV


YURT ON THE TOPOLOFKA--THE VALLEY OF TEMPESTS--RIVER OF THE
LOST--STORM BOUND--ESCAPE BY THE ICE-FOOT--A SLEEPLESS NIGHT--LEET
REPORTED DEAD--YAMSK AT LAST

"Kennan! Oh, Kennan! Turn out! It's day light!" A sleepy grunt and a
still more drowsy "Is it?" from the pile of furs lying on the rough
plank floor betrayed no very lively interest on the part of the
prostrate figure in the fact announced, while the heavy, long-drawn
breathing which soon succeeded this momentary interruption proved that
more active measures must be taken to recall him from the land of
dreams. "I say! Kennan! Wake up! Breakfast has been ready this
half-hour." The magic word "breakfast" appealed to a stronger feeling
than drowsiness, and, thrusting my head out from beneath its covering
of furs, I took a sleepy, blinking view of the situation, endeavouring
in a feeble sort of way to recollect where I was and how I came there.
A bright crackling fire of resinous pine boughs was burning on the
square log altar in the centre of the hut, radiating a fierce heat to
its remotest corner, and causing the perspiration to stand in great
beads on its mouldy logs and rough board ceiling. The smoke rose
lazily through the square hole in the roof toward the white,
solemn-looking stars, which winked soberly at us between the dark
overhanging branches of the larches. Mr. Leet, who acted as the Soyer
of our campaign, was standing over me with a slice of bacon impaled
on a bowie-knife in one hand, and a poker in the other--both of which
insignia of office he was brandishing furiously, with the intention
of waking me up more effectually. His frantic gesticulations had the
desired result. With a vague impression that I had been shipwrecked on
the Cannibal Islands and was about to be sacrificed to the tutelary
deities, I sprang up and rubbed my eyes until I gathered together my
scattered senses. Mr. Leet was in high glee. Our travelling companion,
the postilion, had manifested for several days an inclination to shirk
work and allow us to do all the road-breaking, while he followed
comfortably in our tracks, and by this strategic manoeuvre had
incurred Mr. Leet's most implacable hatred. The latter, therefore, had
waked the unfortunate man up before he had been asleep five hours, and
had deluded him into the belief that the aurora borealis was the first
flush of daylight. He had accordingly started off at midnight and was
laboriously breaking a road up the steep mountain side through three
feet of soft snow, relying upon Mr. Leet's promise that we would be
along before sunrise. At five o'clock, when I got up, the voices of
the postilion's men could still be heard shouting to their exhausted
dogs near the summit of the mountain. We all breakfasted as slowly as
possible, in order to give them plenty of time to break a road for us,
and did not finally start until after six o'clock.

It was a beautifully clear, still morning when we crossed the mountain
above the _yurt_, and wound around through bare open valleys, among
high hills, toward the seacoast. The sun had risen over the eastern
hill-tops, and the snow glittered as if strewn with diamonds, while
the distant peaks of the Viliga, appeared--

  "Bathed in the tenderest purple of distance
  Tinted and shadowed by pencils of air"--

as calm and bright in their snowy majesty as if the suspicion of
a storm had never attached to their smooth white slopes and sharp
pinnacles. The air, although intensely cold, was clear and bracing;
and as our dogs bounded at a gallop over the hard, broken road, the
exhilarating motion caused the very blood in our veins

  "--to dance
  Blithe as the sparkling wine of France."

About noon we came out of the mountains upon the sea beach and
overtook the postilion, who had stopped to rest his tired dogs. Our
own being fresh, we again took the lead, and drew rapidly near to the
valley of the Viliga.

I was just mentally congratulating myself upon our good fortune in
having clear weather to pass this dreaded point, when my attention was
attracted by a curious white cloud or mist, extending from the mouth
of the Viliga ravine far out over the black open water of the Okhotsk
Sea. Wondering what it could be, I pointed it out to our guide, and
inquired if it were fog. His face clouded up with anxiety as he
glanced at it, and replied laconically, "Viliga dooreet," or "The
mountains are fooling." This oracular response did not enlighten me
very much, and I demanded an explanation. I was then told, to my
astonishment and dismay, that the curious white mist which I had taken
to be fog was a dense driving cloud of snow, hurled out of the mouth
of the ravine by a storm, which had apparently just begun in the upper
gorges of the Stanavoi range. It would be impossible, our guide said,
to cross the valley, and dangerous to attempt it until the wind should
subside. I could not see either the impossibility or the danger, and
as there was another _yurt_ or shelter-house on the other side of the
ravine, I determined to go on and make the attempt at least to cross.
Where we were the weather was perfectly calm and still; a candle
would have burned in the open air without flickering; and I could
not realise the tremendous force of the hurricane which, only a mile
ahead, was vomiting snow out of the mouth of that ravine and carrying
it four miles to sea. Seeing that Leet and I were determined to cross
the valley, our guide shrugged his shoulders expressively, as much as
to say, "You will soon regret your haste," and we went on.

As we gradually approached the white curtain of mist, we began to feel
sharp intermittent puffs of wind and little whirlwinds of snow, which
increased constantly in strength and frequency as we drew nearer and
nearer to the mouth of the ravine. Our guide once more remonstrated
with us upon the folly of going deliberately into such a storm as this
evidently would be; but Leet laughed him to scorn, declaring in broken
Russian that he had seen storms in the Sierra Nevadas to which this
was not a circumstance--"Bolshoi storms, you bet!" But in five minutes
more Mr. Leet himself was ready to admit that this storm on the Viliga
would not compare unfavourably with anything of the kind that he had
ever seen in California. As we rounded the end of a protecting bluff
on the edge of the ravine, the gale burst upon us in all its fury,
blinding and suffocating us with dense clouds of driving snow, which
blotted out instantly the sun and the clear blue sky, and fairly
darkened the whole earth. The wind roared as it sometimes does through
the cordage of a ship at sea. There was something almost supernatural
in the suddenness of the change from bright sunshine and calm still
air to this howling, blinding tempest, and I began to feel doubtful
myself as to the practicability of crossing the valley. Our guide
turned with a despairing look to me, as if reproaching me with my
obstinacy in coming into the storm against his advice, and then urged
on with shouts and blows his cowering dogs. The sockets of the poor
brutes' eyes were completely plastered up with snow, and out of many
of them were oozing drops of blood; but blind as they were they still
struggled on, uttering at intervals short mournful cries, which
alarmed me more than the roaring of the storm. In a moment we were at
the bottom of the ravine; and before we could check the impetus of our
descent we were out on the smooth glare ice of the "Propashchina," or
"River of the Lost," and sweeping rapidly down toward the open water
of the Okhotsk Sea, only a hundred yards below. All our efforts to
stop our sledges were at first unavailing against the force of the
wind, and I began to understand the nature of the danger to which our
guide had alluded. Unless we could stop our sledges before we should
reach the mouth of the river we must inevitably be blown off the ice
into three or four fathoms of water. Precisely such a disaster had
given the river its ominous name, Leet and the Cossack Paderin, who
were alone upon their respective sledges, and who did not get so far
from the shore in the first place, finally succeeded with the aid of
their spiked sticks in getting back; but the old guide and I were
together upon one sledge, and our voluminous fur clothes caught so
much wind that our spiked sticks would not stop or hold us, and
our dogs could not keep their feet. Believing that the sledge must
inevitably be blown into the sea if we both clung to it, I finally
relinquished my hold and tried to stop myself by sitting down, and
then by lying down flat upon my face on the ice; but all was of no
avail; my slippery furs took no hold of the smooth, treacherous
surface, and I drifted away even faster than before. I had already
torn off my mittens, and as I slid at last over a rough place in
the ice I succeeded in getting my finger-nails into the little
corrugations of the surface and in stopping my perilous drift; but I
hardly dared breathe lest I should lose my hold. Seeing my situation,
Leet slid to me the sharp iron-spiked _oerstel_, which is used to
check the speed of a sledge in descending hills, and by digging this
into the ice at short intervals I crept back to shore, only a short
distance above the open water at the mouth of the river, into which my
mittens had already gone. Our guide was still sliding slowly and at
intervals down stream, but Paderin went to his assistance with another
_oerstel_, and together they brought his sledge once more to land. I
would have been quite satisfied now to turn back and get out of the
storm; but our guide's blood was up, and cross the valley he would if
we lost all our sledges in the sea. He had warned us of the danger and
we had insisted upon coming on; we must now take the consequences.
As it was evidently impossible to cross the river at this point, we
struggled up its left bank in the teeth of the storm almost half a
mile, until we reached a bend which put land between us and the open
water. Here we made a second attempt, and were successful. Crossing a
low ridge on the west side of the "Propashchina," we reached another
small stream known as the Viliga, at the foot of the Viliga Mountains.
Along this there extended a narrow strip of dense timber, and in this
timber, somewhere, stood the _yurt_ of which we were in search. Our
guide seemed to find the road by a sort of instinct, for the drifting
clouds of snow hid even our-leading dogs from sight, and all that we
could see of the country was the ground on which we stood. About an
hour before dark, tired and chilled to the bone, we drew up before
a little log hut in the woods, which our guide said was the Viliga
_yurt_. The last travellers who had occupied it had left the chimney
hole open, and it was nearly filled with snow, but we cleared it out
as well as we could, built a fire on the ground in the centre, and,
regardless of the smoke, crouched around it to drink tea. We had seen
nothing of the postilion since noon, and hardly thought it possible
that he could reach the _yurt_; but just as it began to grow dark we
heard the howling of his dogs in the woods, and in a few moments he
made his appearance. Our party now numbered nine men--two Americans,
three Russians, and four Koraks--and a wild-looking crowd it was, as
it squatted around the fire in that low smoke-blackened hut, drinking
tea and listening to the howling wind. As there was not room enough
for all to sleep inside the _yurt_, the Koraks camped out-doors on the
snow, and before morning were half buried in a drift.

[Illustration: THE YURT IN THE "STORMY GORGE OF THE VILIGA" From a
painting by George A. Frost]

All night the wind roared a deep, hoarse bass through the forest which
sheltered the _yurt_, and at daylight on the following morning there
was no abatement of the storm. We knew that it might blow without
intermission in that ravine for two weeks, and we had only four days'
dog-food and provisions left. Something must be done. The Viliga
Mountains which blocked up the road to Yamsk were cut by three gaps
or passes, all of which opened into the valley, and in clear weather
could be easily found and crossed. In such a storm, however, as the
one which had overtaken us, a hundred passes would be of no avail,
because the drifting snow hid everything from sight at a distance of
thirty feet, and we were as likely to go up the side of a peak as up
the right pass, even if we could make our dogs face the storm at all,
which was doubtful. After breakfast we held a council of war for the
purpose of determining what it would be best to do. Our guide thought
that our best course would be to go down the Viliga River to the
coast, and make our way westward, if possible, along what he called
the "pripaika"--a narrow strip of sea ice generally found at the
water's edge under the cliffs of a precipitous coast line. He could
not promise us that this route would be practicable, but he had heard
that there was a beach for at least a part of the distance between the
Viliga and Yamsk, and he thought that we might make our way along this
beach and the _pripaika_, or ice-foot, to a ravine, twenty-five or
thirty miles farther west, which would lead us up on the tundra beyond
the mountains. We could at least try this shelf of ice under the
cliffs, and if we should find it impassable we could return, while if
we went into the mountains in such a blizzard we might never get back.
The plan suggested by the guide seemed to me a bold and attractive one
and I decided to adopt it. Making our way down the river, in clouds of
flying snow, we soon reached the coast, and started westward, along a
narrow strip of ice-encumbered beach, between the open water of the
sea and a long line of black perpendicular cliffs, one hundred and
fifty to three hundred feet in height. We were making very fair
progress when we found ourselves suddenly confronted by an entirely
unexpected and apparently insurmountable obstacle. The beach, as far
as we could see to the westward, was completely filled up from the
water's edge to a height of seventy-five or a hundred feet by enormous
drifts of snow, which had been gradually accumulating there throughout
the winter, and which now masked the whole face of the precipice, and
left no room for passage between it and the sea. These snow-drifts,
by frequent alternations of warm and cold weather, had been rendered
almost as hard and slippery as ice, and as they sloped upward toward
the tops of the cliffs at an angle of seventy-five or eighty degrees,
it was impossible to stand upon them without first cutting places for
the feet with an axe. Along the face of this smooth, snowy escarpment,
which rose directly out of two or three fathoms of water, lay our only
route to Yamsk. The prospect of getting over it without meeting with
some disaster seemed very faint, for the slightest caving away of
the snow would tumble us all into the open sea; but as there was no
alternative, we fastened our dogs to cakes of ice, distributed our
axes and hatchets, threw off our heavy fur coats, and began cutting
out a road.

We worked hard all day, and by six o'clock in the evening had cut a
deep trench three feet in width along the face of the escarpment to a
point about a mile and a quarter west of the mouth of the Viliga. Here
we were again stopped, however, by a difficulty infinitely worse than
any that we had surmounted. The beach, which had previously extended
in one unbroken line along the foot of the cliffs, here suddenly
disappeared, and the mass of snow over which we had been cutting a
road came to an abrupt termination. Unsupported from beneath, the
whole escarpment had caved away into the sea, leaving a gap of open
water about thirty-five feet in width, out of which rose the black
perpendicular wall of the coast. There was no possibility of getting
across without the assistance of a pontoon bridge. Tired and
disheartened, we were compelled to camp on the slope of the escarpment
for the night, with no prospect of being able to do anything in the
morning except return with all possible speed to the Viliga, and
abandon the idea of reaching Yamsk altogether.

A wilder, more dangerous location for a camp than that which we
occupied could hardly be found in Siberia, and I watched with the
greatest uneasiness the signs of the weather as it began to grow dark.
The huge sloping snow-drift upon which we stood rose directly out of
the water, and, so far as we knew, it might have no other foundation
than a narrow strip of ice. If so, the faintest breeze from any
direction except north would roll in waves high enough to undermine
and break up the whole escarpment, and either precipitate us with
an avalanche of snow into the open sea, or leave us clinging like
barnacles to the bare face of the precipice, seventy-five feet above
it. Neither alternative was pleasant to contemplate, and I determined,
if possible, to find a place of greater security. Leet, with his usual
recklessness, dug himself out what he called a "bedroom" in the snow
about fifty feet above the water, and promised me "a good night's
sleep" if I would accept his hospitality and share his cave; but under
the circumstances I thought best to decline. His "bedroom," bed, and
bedding might all tumble into the sea before morning, and his "good
night's sleep" be indefinitely prolonged. Going back a short distance
in the direction of the Viliga, I finally discovered a place where a
small stream had once fallen over the summit of the cliff, and had
worn out a steep narrow channel in its face. In the rocky, uneven bed
of this little ravine the natives and I stretched ourselves out for
the night, our bodies inclined at an angle of forty-five degrees--our
heads, of course, up-hill.

If the reader can imagine himself camping out on the steep sloping
roof of a great cathedral, with a precipice a hundred feet high over
his head and three or four fathoms of open water at his feet, he will
be able, perhaps, to form some idea of the way in which we spent that
dismal night.

With the first streak of dawn we were up. While we were gloomily
making preparations to return to the Viliga, one of the Koraks who
had gone to take a last look at the gap of open water came hurriedly
climbing back, shouting joyfully, "Mozhno perryékat, mozhno
perryékat!"--"It is possible to cross." The tide, which had risen
during the night, had brought in two or three large cakes of broken
ice, and had jammed them into the gap in such a manner as to make a
rude bridge. Fearing, however, that it would not support a very heavy
weight, we unloaded all our sledges, carried the loads, sledges, and
dogs across separately, loaded up again on the other side, and
went on. The worst of our difficulties was past. We still had some
road-cutting to do through occasional snow-drifts; but as we went
farther and farther to the westward the beach became wider and higher,
the ice disappeared, and by night we were thirty versts nearer to our
destination. The sea on one side, and the cliffs on the other, still
hemmed us in; but on the following day we succeeded in making our
escape through the valley of the Kánanaga River.

The twelfth day of our journey found us on a great steppe called the
Málkachán, only thirty miles from Yamsk; and although our dog-food and
provisions were both exhausted, we hoped to reach the settlement
late in the night. Darkness came on, however, with another blinding
snow-storm, in which we again lost our way; and, fearing that we might
drive over the edges of the precipices into the sea by which the
steppe was bounded on the east, we were finally compelled to stop. We
could find no wood for a fire; but even had we succeeded in making a
fire, it would have been instantly smothered by the clouds of snow
which the furious wind drove across the plain. Spreading down our
canvas tent upon the ground, and capsizing a heavy dog-sledge upon one
edge of it to hold it fast, we crawled under it to get away from the
suffocating snow. Lying there upon our faces, with the canvas flapping
furiously against our backs, we scraped our bread-bag for the last few
frozen crumbs which remained, and ate a few scraps of raw meat which
Mr. Leet found on one of the sledges. In the course of fifteen or
twenty minutes we noticed that the flappings of the canvas were
getting shorter and shorter, and that it seemed to be tightening
across our bodies, and upon making an effort to get out we found that
we were fastened down. The snow had drifted in such masses upon the
edges of the tent and had packed there with such solidity that it
could not be moved, and after trying once or twice to break out we
concluded to lie still and make the best of our situation. As long as
the snow did not bury us entirely, we were better off under the tent
than anywhere else, because we were protected from the wind. In half
an hour the drift had increased to such an extent that we could no
longer turn over, and our supply of air was almost entirely cut off.
We must either get out or be suffocated. I had drawn my sheath-knife
fifteen minutes before in expectation of such a crisis, and as it was
already becoming difficult to breathe, I cut a long slit in the canvas
above my head and we crawled out. In an instant eyes and nostrils were
completely plastered up with snow, and we gasped for breath as if the
stream of a fire-engine had been turned suddenly in our faces. Drawing
our heads and arms into the bodies of our _kukhlankas_, we squatted
down upon the snow to wait for daylight. In a moment I heard Mr. Leet
shouting down into the neck-hole of my fur coat, "What would our
mothers say if they could see us now?" I wanted to ask him how this
would compare with a gale in his boasted Sierra Nevadas, but he was
gone before I could get my head out, and I heard nothing more from him
that night. He went away somewhere in the darkness and squatted down
alone upon the snow, to suffer cold, hunger and anxiety until
morning. For more than ten hours we sat in this way on that desolate
storm-swept plain, without fire, food, or sleep, becoming more and
more chilled and exhausted, until it seemed as if daylight would never
come.

Morning dawned at last through gray drifting clouds of snow, and,
getting up with stiffened limbs, we made feeble attempts to dig out
our buried sledges. But for the unwearied efforts of Mr. Leet we
should hardly have succeeded, as my hands and arms were so benumbed
with cold that I could not hold an axe or a shovel, and our drivers,
frightened and discouraged, seemed unable to do anything. By Mr.
Leet's individual exertions the sledges were dug out and we started.
His brief spasm of energy was the last effort of a strong will to
uphold a sinking and exhausted body, and in half an hour he requested
to be tied on his sledge. We lashed him on from head to foot with
sealskin thongs, covered him up with bearskins, and drove on. In about
an hour his driver, Padarin, came back to me with a frightened look in
his face, and said that Mr. Leet was dead; that he had shaken him and
called him several times, but could get no reply. Alarmed and shocked,
I sprang from my sledge and ran up to the place where he lay, shouted
to him, shook him by the shoulder, and tried to uncover his head,
which he had drawn down into the body of his fur coat. In a moment, to
my great relief, I heard his voice, saying that he was all right and
could hold out, if necessary, until night; that he had not answered
Padarin because it was too much trouble, but that I need not be
alarmed about his safety; and then I thought he added something about
"worse storms in the Sierra Nevadas," which convinced me that he
was far from being used up yet. As long as he could insist upon the
superiority of Californian storms, there was certainly hope.

Early in the afternoon we reached the Yamsk River and, after wandering
about for an hour or two in the timber, came upon one of Lieutenant
Arnold's Yakut working-parties and were conducted to their camp, only
a few miles from the settlement. Here we obtained some rye bread and
hot tea, warmed our benumbed limbs, and partially cleared the snow out
of our clothing. When I saw Mr. Leet undressed I wondered that he had
not died. While squatting out on the ground during the storm of the
previous night, snow in great quantities had blown in at his neck,
had partially melted with the warmth of his body, and had then frozen
again in a mass of ice along his whole spine, and in that condition he
had lived to be driven twenty versts. Nothing but a strong will and
the most intense vitality enabled him to hold out during these last
six dismal hours. When we had warmed, rested, and dried ourselves at
the camp-fire of the Yakuts, we resumed our journey, and late in the
afternoon we drove into the settlement of Yamsk, after thirteen
days of harder experience than usually falls to the lot of Siberian
travellers, Mr. Leet so soon recovered his strength and spirits that
three days afterwards he started for Okhotsk, where the Major wished
him to take charge of a gang of Yakut labourers. The last words that I
remember to have ever heard him speak were those which he shouted to
me in the storm and darkness of that gloomy night on the Málkachán
steppe: "What would our mothers say if they could see us now?" The
poor fellow was afterwards driven insane by excitements and hardships
such as these which I have described, and probably to some extent
by this very expedition, and finally committed suicide by shooting
himself at one of the lonely Siberian settlements on the coast of the
Okhotsk Sea.

I have described somewhat in detail this trip to Yamsk because it
illustrates the darkest side of Siberian life and travel. It is not
often that one meets with such an experience, or suffers so many
hardships in any one journey; but in a country so wild and sparsely
populated as Siberia, winter travel is necessarily attended with more
or less suffering and privation.

[Illustration: Iron Skin Scraper]



CHAPTER XXXVI


BRIGHT ANTICIPATIONS--A WHALE-SHIP SIGNALLED--THE BARK SEA
BREEZE--NEWS FROM THE ATLANTIC CABLE--REPORTED ABANDONMENT OF THE
OVERLAND LINE

When, in the latter part of March, Major Abaza returned to Yakutsk to
complete the organisation and equipment of our Yakut labourers, and I
to Gizhiga to await once more the arrival of vessels from America, the
future of the Russian-American Telegraph Company looked much brighter.
We had explored and located the whole route of the line, from the Amur
River to Bering Sea; we had half a dozen working-parties in the field,
and expected to reinforce them soon with six or eight hundred hardy
native labourers from Yakutsk; we had cut and prepared fifteen or
twenty thousand telegraph poles, and were bringing six hundred
Siberian ponies from Yakutsk to distribute them; we had all the wire
and insulators for the Asiatic Division on the ground, as well as an
abundant supply of tools and provisions; and we felt more than hopeful
that we should be able to put our part of the overland line to
St. Petersburg in working order before the beginning of 1870. So
confident, indeed, were some of our men, that, in the pole-cutting
camps, they were singing in chorus every night, to the air of a well
known war-song.

  "In eighteen hundred and sixty-eight
  Hurrah! Hurrah!
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-eight
  Hurrah! Hurrah!
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-eight,
  The cable will be in a miserable state,
  And we'll all feel gay
  When they use it to fish for whales.

  "In eighteen hundred and sixty-nine
  Hurrah! Hurrah!
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-nine
  Hurrah! Hurrah!
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-nine
  We're going to finish this overland line;
  And we'll all feel gay
  When it brings us good news from home."

But it was fated that our next news from home should not be brought by
the overland line, and should not be of such a nature as to make any
of us "feel gay."

On the evening of May 31, 1867, as I sat trying to draw a
topographical map in the little one-story log house which served as
the headquarters of the Asiatic Division, I was interrupted by the
sudden and hasty entrance of my friend and comrade Mr. Lewis, who
rushed into the room crying excitedly: "O Mr. Kennan! Did you hear
the cannon?" I had not heard it, but I understood instantly the
significance of the inquiry. A cannon-shot meant that there was a ship
in sight from the beacon-tower at the mouth of the river. We were
accustomed, every spring, to get our earliest news from the civilised
world through American whaling vessels, which resort at that season of
the year to the Okhotsk Sea. About the middle of May, therefore, we
generally sent a couple of Cossacks to the harbour at the mouth of
the river, with instructions to keep a sharp lookout from the log
beacon-tower on the bluff, and fire three cannon-shots the moment they
should see a whaler or other vessel cruising in the Gulf.

In less than ten minutes, the news that there was a vessel in sight
from the beacon-tower had reached every house in the village, and a
little group of Cossacks gathered at the landing-place, where a boat
was being prepared to take Lewis, Robinson, and me to the sea-coast.
Half an hour later we were gliding swiftly down the river in one of
the light skiffs known in that part of Siberia as "lodkas." We had a
faint hope that the ship which had been signalled would prove to
be one of our own vessels; but even if she should turn out to be a
whaler, she would at least bring us late news from the outside world,
and we felt a burning curiosity to know what had been the result of
the second attempt to lay the Atlantic cable. Had our competitors
beaten us, or was there still a fighting chance that we might beat
them?

We reached the mouth of the river late in the evening, and were met at
the landing by one of the Cossacks from the beacon-tower.

"What ship is it?" I inquired.

"We don't know," he replied. "We saw dark smoke, like the smoke of a
steamer, off Matuga Island just before we fired the cannon, but in a
little while it blew away and we have seen nothing since."

"If it's a whaler trying out oil," said Robinson, "we'll find her
there in the morning."

Leaving the Cossack to take our baggage out of the _lodka_, we all
climbed up to the beacon-tower, with the hope that, as it was still
fairly light, we might be able to see with a glass the vessel that had
made the smoke; but from the high black cliffs of Matuga Island on one
side of the Gulf, to the steep slope of Cape Catherine on the other,
there was nothing to break the horizon line except here and there a
field of drifting ice. Returning to the Cossack barrack, we spread
our bearskins and blankets down on the rough plank floor and went
disconsolate to bed.

Early the next morning, I was awakened by one of the Cossacks with
the welcome news that there was a large square-rigged vessel in the
offing, five or six miles beyond Matuga Island. I climbed hastily up
the bluff, and had no difficulty in making out with a glass the masts
and sails of a good-sized bark, evidently a whaler, which, although
hull down, was apparently cruising back and forth with a light
southerly breeze across the Gulf.

We ate breakfast hastily, put on our fur _kukhlankas_ and caps, and
started in a whale-boat under oars for the ship, which was distant
about fifteen miles. Although the wind was light and the sea
comparatively smooth, it was a hard, tedious pull; and we did not get
alongside until after ten o'clock. Pacing the quarter-deck, as we
climbed on board was a good-looking, ruddy-faced, gray-haired man whom
I took to be the captain. He evidently thought, from our outer fur
dress, that we were only a party of natives come off to trade; and he
paid no attention whatever to us until I walked aft and said: "Are you
the captain of this bark?"

At the first word of English, he stopped as if transfixed, stared at
me for a moment in silence, and then exclaimed in a tone of profound
astonishment: "Well! I'll be dod-gasted! Has the universal Yankee got
up here?"

"Yes, Captain," I replied, "he is not only here, but he has been here
for two years or more. What bark is this?"

"The _Sea Breeze_, of New Bedford, Massachusetts," he replied, "and I
am Captain Hamilton. But what are you doing up in this God-forsaken
country? Have you been shipwrecked?"

"No," I said, "we're up here trying to build a telegraph line."

"A telegraph line!" he shouted. "Well, if that ain't the craziest
thing I ever heard of! Who's going to telegraph from here?"

I explained to him that we were trying to establish telegraphic
communication between America and Europe by way of Alaska, Bering
Strait, and Siberia, and asked him if he had never heard of the
Russian-American Telegraph Company.

"Never," he replied. "I didn't know there was such a company; but I've
been out two years on a cruise, and I haven't kept up very well with
the news."

"How about the Atlantic cable?" I inquired. "Do you know anything
about that?"

"Oh, yes," he replied cheerfully, as if he were giving me the best
news in the world, "the cable is laid all right."

"Does it work?" I asked, with a sinking heart.

"Works like a snatch-tackle," he responded heartily. "The 'Frisco
papers are publishing every morning the London news of the day before.
I've got a lot of 'em on board that I'll give you. Perhaps you'll find
something in them about your Company."

I think the captain must have noticed, from the sudden change in the
expression of our faces, that his news about the Atlantic cable was
a staggering blow to us, for he immediately dropped the subject and
suggested the expediency of going below.

We all went down into the cosy, well-furnished cabin, where
refreshments were set before us by the steward, and where we talked
for an hour about the news of the world, from whaling in the South
Pacific to dog-driving in Arctic Asia, and from Weston's walk across
the North American continent to Karakozef's attempt to assassinate the
Tsar. But it was, on our side at least, a perfunctory conversation.
The news of the complete success of the Atlantic cable was as
unexpected as it was disheartening, and it filled our minds to the
exclusion of everything else. The world would have no use for an
overland telegraph-line through Alaska and Siberia if it already
possessed a working cable between London and New York.

We left the hospitable cabin of the _Sea Breeze_ about noon, and
prepared to return to Gizhiga. Captain Hamilton, with warm-hearted
generosity, not only gave us all the newspapers and magazines he had
on board, but literally filled our boat with potatoes, pumpkins,
bananas, oranges, and yams, which he had brought up from the Sandwich
Islands. I think he saw that we were feeling somewhat disheartened,
and wanted to cheer us up in the only way he could--by giving us some
of the luxuries of civilised life. We had not seen a potato, nor
tasted any other fresh vegetable or fruit, in nearly two years.

We left the ship reluctantly, at last, giving three cheers and a
"tiger" for Captain Hamilton and the _Sea Breeze_, as we went over the
side.

When we had pulled three or four miles away from the bark, Lewis
suggested that instead of returning at once to the mouth of the river
we should go ashore at the nearest point on the coast, and look
over the newspapers while the Cossacks made a fire and roasted some
potatoes. This seemed to us all a good plan, and half an hour later we
were sitting around a fire of driftwood on the beach, each of us with
a newspaper in one hand and a banana or an orange in the other, and
all feeding mind and body simultaneously. The papers were of various
dates from September, 1866, to March, 1867, and were so mixed up that
it was impossible to follow the course of events chronologically or
consecutively. We were not long, however, in ascertaining not only
that the new Atlantic cable had been successfully laid, but that the
broken and abandoned cable of 1865 had been picked up in mid-ocean,
repaired, and put in perfect working order. I think this discouraged
us more than anything else. If cables could be found in the middle of
the Atlantic, picked up in ten or twelve thousand feet of water, and
repaired on the deck of a steamer, the ultimate success of submarine
telegraphy was assured, and we might as well pack up our trunks and go
home. But there was worse news to come. A few minutes later, Lewis,
who was reading an old copy of the San Francisco _Bulletin_, struck
his knee violently with his clenched fist and exclaimed;

"Boys! The jig is up! Listen to this!

  "'Special Dispatch to the _Bulletin_

  "'New York, October 15.

  "'In consequence of the success of the Atlantic
  cable, all work on the Russian-American telegraph
  line has been stopped and the enterprise has been
  abandoned.'"

"Well!" said Robinson, after a moment of thoughtful silence, "that
seems to settle it. The cable has knocked us out."

Late in the afternoon, we pulled back, with heavy hearts, to the
beacon-tower at the mouth of the river, and on the following day
returned to Gizhiga, to await the arrival of a vessel from San
Francisco with an official notification of the abandonment of the
enterprise.

[Illustration: Women's Knives used in making clothing]



CHAPTER XXXVII


OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION OF THE BAD NEWS--THE ENTERPRISE ABANDONED--A
VOYAGE TO OKHOTSK--THE AURORA OF THE SEA

On the 15th of July, the Company's bark _Onward_ (which should have
been named _Backward_) arrived at Gizhiga with orders to sell all of
our stores that were salable; use the proceeds in the payment of our
debts; discharge our native labourers; gather up our men, and return
to the United States. The Atlantic cable had proved to be a complete
success, and our Company, after sinking about $3,000,000 in the
attempt to build an overland line from America to Europe, had finally
decided to put up with its loss and abandon the undertaking. Letters
from the directors to Major Abaza, stated that they would be willing
to go on with the work, in spite of the success of the Atlantic cable,
if the Russian Government would agree to complete the line on the
Siberian side of Bering Strait; but they did not think they should be
required, under the circumstances, to do all the work on the American
side and half of that on the Russian.

Major Abaza, hoping that he could prevail upon the Russian Minister of
Ways and Communications to take the Asiatic Division off the hands of
the American Company, and thus prevent the complete abandonment of
the enterprise, decided at once to go to St. Petersburg overland. He
therefore sailed in the _Onward_ with me for Okhotsk, intending to
disembark there, start for Yakutsk on horseback, and send me back in
the ship to pick up our working parties along the coast.

The last of July found us becalmed, about fifty miles off the harbour
and river of Okhotsk. I had been playing chess all the evening in the
cabin, and it was almost eleven o'clock when the second mate called to
me down the companionway to come on deck. Wondering if we had taken a
favourable slant of wind, I went up.

It was one of those warm, still, almost tropical nights, so rarely
seen on northern waters, when a profound calm reigns in the moonless
heavens, and the hush of absolute repose rests upon the tired,
storm-vexed sea. There was not the faintest breath of air to stir even
the reef-points of the motionless sails, or roughen the dark, polished
mirror of water around the ship. A soft, almost imperceptible haze
concealed the line of the far horizon, and blended sky and water into
one great hollow sphere of twinkling stars. Earth and sea seemed to
have passed away, and our motionless ship floated, spell-bound, in
vacancy--the only earthly object in an encircling universe of stars
and planets. The great luminous band of the Milky Way seemed to sweep
around beneath us in a complete circle of white, misty light, and far
down under our keel gleamed the three bright stars in the belt of
Orion. Only when a fish sprang with a little splash out of one of
these submarine constellations and shattered it into trembling
fragments of broken light could we realise that it was nothing but a
mirrored reflection of the heavens above.

Absorbed in the beauty of the scene, I had forgotten to ask the mate
why he had called me on deck, and started with surprise as he touched
me on the shoulder and said: "Curious thing, ain't it?"

"Yes," I replied, supposing that he referred to the reflection of the
heavens in the water, "it's the most wonderful night I ever saw at
sea. I can hardly make myself believe that we _are_ at sea--the ship
seems to be hanging in space with a great universe of stars above and
below."

"What do you suppose makes it?" he inquired.

"Makes what--the reflection?"

"No, that light. Don't you see it?"

Following the direction of his outstretched arm, I noticed, for the
first time, a bank of pale, diffused radiance, five or six degrees in
height, stretching along the northern horizon from about N.N.W. to
E.N.E. and resembling very closely the radiance of a faint aurora. The
horizon line could not be distinguished; but the luminous appearance
seemed to rise in the haze that hid it from sight.

"Have you ever seen anything like it before?" I inquired.

"Never," the mate replied; "but it looks like the northern lights on
the water."

Wondering what could be the nature of this mysterious light, I climbed
into the shrouds, in order to get a better view. As I watched it, it
suddenly began to lengthen out at both ends, like a rapidly spreading
fire, and drew a long curtain of luminous mist around the whole
northern horizon. Another similar light then appeared in the
south-east, and although it was not yet connected with the first, it
also seemed to be extending itself laterally, and in a moment the two
luminous curtains united, forming a great semicircular band of pale,
bluish-white radiance around the heavens, like a celestial equator
belting a vast universe of stars. I could form, as yet, no conjecture
as to the cause or nature of this strange phenomenon which looked and
behaved like an aurora, but which seemed to rise out of the water.
After watching it five or ten minutes, I went below to call the
captain.

Hardly had I reached the foot of the companionway when the mate
shouted again; "O Kennan! Come on deck quick!" and rushing hastily
up I saw for the first time, in all its glorious splendour, the
phosphorescence of the sea. With almost incredible swiftness, a mantle
of bluish-white fire had covered nearly all the dark water north of
us, and its clearly defined edge wavered and trembled for an instant,
like the arch of an aurora, within half a mile of the ship. Another
lightning-like flash brought it all around us, and we floated,
literally, in a sea of liquid radiance. Not a single square foot of
dark water could be seen, in any direction, from the maintop, and all
the rigging of the ship, to the royal yards, was lighted up with a
faint, unearthly, blue glare. The ocean looked like a vast plain of
snow, illuminated by blue fire and overhung by heavens of almost inky
blackness. The Milky Way disappeared completely in the blaze of light
from the sea, and stars of the first magnitude twinkled dimly, as if
half hidden by fog.

Only a moment before, the dark, still water had reflected vividly a
whole hemisphere of spangled constellations, and the outlines of the
ship's spars were projected as dusky shadows against the Milky Way.
Now, the sea was ablaze with opaline light, and the yards and sails
were painted in faint tints of blue on a background of ebony. The
metamorphosis was sudden and wonderful beyond description! The polar
aurora seemed to have left its home in the higher regions of the
atmosphere and descended in a sheet of vivid electrical fire upon the
ocean. As we stood, silent with amazement, upon the quarter-deck, this
sheet of bluish flame suddenly vanished, over at least ten square
miles of water, causing, by its almost instantaneous disappearance, a
sensation of total blindness, and leaving the sea, for a moment, an
abyss of blackness. As the pupils of our eyes, however, gradually
dilated, we saw, as before, the dark shining mirror of water around
the ship, while far away on the horizon rose the faint luminous
appearance which had first attracted our attention, and which
was evidently due to the lighting up of the haze by areas of
phosphorescent water below the horizon line.

In a moment the mate shouted excitedly: "Here it comes again!" and
again the great tide of fire came sweeping up around the vessel, and
we floated in a sea of radiance that extended in every direction
beyond the limits of vision.

As soon as I had recovered a little from the bewildered amazement into
which I was thrown by the first phosphorescent flash, I observed, as
closely and carefully as possible, the nature and conditions of the
extraordinary phenomenon. In the first place, I satisfied myself
beyond question, that the radiance was phosphorescent and not
electrical, although it simulated the light of the aurora in the
rapidity of its movements of translation from one area to another.
When it flashed around the ship the second time, I got down close to
the luminous surface and discovered that what seemed, from the deck,
to be a mantle of bluish fire was, in reality, a layer of water
closely packed with fine bright spangles. It looked like water in
which luminous sand was constantly being stirred or churned up. The
points of light were so numerous that, at a distance of ten or twelve
feet, the eye failed to notice that there was any dark water in
the interspaces, and received merely an impression of diffused and
unbroken radiance.

In the second place, I became convinced that the myriads of
microscopic organisms which pervaded the water did not light up
their tiny lamps in response to a mechanical shock, such as would be
produced by agitation of the medium in which they floated. There was
no breeze, at any time, nor was there the faintest indication of
a ripple on the glassy surface of the sea. Between the flashes of
phosphorescence, the polished mirror of dark water was not blurred by
so much as a breath. The sudden lighting up of myriads of infusorial
lamps over vast areas of unruffled water was not due, therefore, to
mechanical agitation, and must have had some other and more subtle
cause. What the nature was of the impulse that stimulated whole square
miles of floating protoplasm into luminous activity so suddenly as
to produce the visual impression of an electric flash, I could not
conjecture. The officers of the U. S. revenue cutter _McCulloch_
observed and recorded in Bering Sea, in August, 1898, a display of
phosphorescence which was almost as remarkable as the one I am trying
to describe [Footnote: _N.Y. Sun_, Nov. 11 1899.]; but in that case
the sea was rough; there were no sudden flashes of appearance and
disappearance; and the excitation of the light-bearing organisms may
have been due--and probably was due--to mechanical shock.

In the third place, I observed that in the intervals between the
flashes, when the water was dark, all objects immersed in that water
were luminous. The ship's copper was so bright that I could count
every tack and seam; the rudder was lighted to its lowest pintle; and
medusae, or jelly-fish, drifting past, with slow pulsations, at a
depth of ten or twelve feet, looked like submerged moons. It thus
appeared that protozoa floating freely in the water lighted their
lamps only in response to excitation, of some sort, which affected,
almost instantaneously, areas many square miles in extent; while those
that were attached to, or in contact with, solid matter kept their
lamps lighted all the time.

During one of the periods of illumination, which lasted several
minutes, I hauled up a bucketful of the phosphorescent liquid and took
it into the cabin. Nothing whatever could be seen in it by artificial
light, but when the light had been removed, the inside of the bucket
glowed, although the water itself remained dark.

The sea in the vicinity of the ship became phosphorescent three or
four times; the sheet of fire in every case, sweeping down upon us
from the north at a rate of speed that seemed to be about equal to the
speed of sound-waves in air. The duration of the phosphorescence, at
each separate appearance, was from a minute and a half to three or
four minutes, and it vanished every time with a flash-like movement of
translation to another and remoter area. The whole display, so far as
we were concerned, was over in about twenty minutes; but long after
the sheet of phosphorescence disappeared from the neighbourhood of the
ship, we could see it lighting up the overhanging haze as it moved
swiftly from place to place beyond the horizon line. At one time,
there were three or four such areas of bright water north of us, but
as they were below the curve of the earth's convexity we could not
see them, and traced them only by the shifting belts or patches of
irradiated mist.

[Illustration: Reindeer Bridle Snow Shovel]



CHAPTER XXXVIII


CLOSING UP THE BUSINESS--A BARGAIN SALE--TELEGRAPH TEACUPS
REDUCED--CHEAP SHOVELS FOR GRAVE DIGGING--WIRE FISH NETS AT A
SACRIFICE--OUR NARROWEST ESCAPE--BLOWN OUT TO SEA--SAVED BY THE
"_Onward_"

We reached Okhotsk about the 1st of August, and after seeing the Major
off for St. Petersburg, I sailed again in the _Onward_ and spent
most of the next month in cruising along the coast, picking up our
scattered working-parties, and getting on board such stores and
material as happened to be accessible and were worth saving.

Early in September, I returned to Gizhiga and proceeded to close
up the business and make preparations for final departure. Our
instructions from the Company were to sell all of our stores that were
salable and use the proceeds in the payment of our debts. I have no
doubt that this seemed to our worthy directors a perfectly feasible
scheme, and one likely to bring in a considerable amount of ready
money; but, unfortunately, their acquaintance with our environment
was very limited, and their plan, from our point of view, was open to
several objections. In the first place, although we had at Gizhiga
fifteen or twenty thousand dollars' worth of unused material, most of
it was of such a nature as to be absolutely unsalable in that country.
In the second place, the villages of Okhotsk, Yamsk, and Gizhiga,
taken together, did not have more than five hundred inhabitants, and
it was doubtful whether the whole five hundred could make up a purse
of as many rubles, even to ensure their eternal salvation. Assuming,
therefore, that the natives wanted our crowbars, telegraph poles,
and pickaxes they had little or no money with which to pay for them.
However orders were orders; and as soon as practicable we opened, in
front of our principal storehouse, a sort of international bazaar,
and proceeded to dispose of our superfluous goods upon the best terms
possible. We put the price of telegraph wire down until that luxury
was within the reach of the poorest Korak family. We glutted the
market with pickaxes and long-handled shovels, which we assured the
natives would be useful in burying their dead, and threw in a lot of
frozen cucumber pickles and other anti-scorbutics which we warranted
to fortify the health of the living. We sold glass insulators by the
hundred as patent American teacups, and brackets by the thousand
as prepared American kindling-wood. We offered soap and candles as
premiums to anybody who would buy our salt pork and dried apples, and
taught the natives how to make cooling drinks and hot biscuits,
in order to create a demand for our redundant lime-juice and
baking-powder. We directed all our energies to the creation of
artificial wants in that previously happy and contented community, and
flooded the whole adjacent country with articles that were of no more
use to the poor natives than ice-boats and mouse-traps would be to the
Tuaregs of the Saharan desert. In short, we dispensed the blessings of
civilisation with a free hand. But the result was not as satisfactory
as our directors doubtless expected it to be. The market at last
refused to absorb any more brackets and pickaxes; telegraph wire did
not make as good fish-nets and dog-harnesses as some of our salesmen
confidently predicted that it would; and lime-juice and water, as
a beverage, even when drunk out of pressed-crystal insulators,
beautifully tinted with green, did not seem to commend itself to
the aboriginal mind. So we finally had to shut up our store. We
had gathered in--if I remember rightly--about three hundred rubles
($150.), which, with the money that Major Abaza had left us, amounted
to something like five hundred. I did not use this cash, however, in
the payment of the Company's debts. I expected to have to return to
the United States through Siberia, and I did not propose to put myself
in such a position that I should be compelled to defray my travelling
expenses by peddling lime-juice, cucumber pickles, telegraph wire,
dried apples, glass insulators, and baking-powder along the road. I
therefore persuaded the Company's creditors, who, fortunately, were
not very numerous, to take tea and sugar in satisfaction of their
claims, so that I might save all the cash I had for the overland trip
from Okhotsk to St. Petersburg.

Our business in Gizhiga was finally adjusted and settled; our
working-parties were all called in; and we were just about to sail in
the bark _Onward_ for Okhotsk, when we were suddenly confronted by
the deadliest peril that we had encountered in more than two years of
arctic experience. Every explorer who goes into a wild, unknown part
of the world to make scientific researches, to find a new route for
commerce, or to gratify an innate love of adventure, has, now and
then, an escape from a violent death which is so extraordinary that he
classifies it under the head of "narrow." The peril that he incurs may
be momentary in duration, or it may be prolonged for hours, or even
days; but in any case, while it lasts it is imminent and deadly. It is
something more than ordinary danger--it is peril in which the chances
of death are a hundred and of life only one. Such peril advances, as
a rule, with terrifying swiftness and suddenness; and if one be
unaccustomed to danger, he is liable to be beaten down and overwhelmed
by the quick and unexpected shock of the catastrophe. He has no time
to rally his nervous forces, or to think how he will deal with the
emergency. The crisis comes like an instantaneous "Vision of Sudden
Death," which paralyses all his faculties before he has a chance to
exercise them. Swift danger of this kind tests to the utmost a man's
inherited or acquired capacity for instinctive and purely automatic
action; but as it generally passes before it has been fairly
comprehended, it is not so trying, I think, to the nerves and to
the character as the danger that is prolonged to the point of full
realisation, and that cannot then be averted or lessened by any
possible action. It is only when a man has time to understand and
appreciate the impending catastrophe, and can do absolutely nothing to
avert it, that he fully realises the possibility of death. Action of
any kind is tonic, and when a man can fight danger with his muscles or
his brain, he is roused and excited by the struggle; but when he can
do nothing except wait, watch the suspended sword of Damocles, and
wonder how soon the stroke will come, he must have strong nerves long
to endure the strain.

Just before we sailed from Gizhiga in the _Onward_, eight of us had
an escape from death in which the peril came with great swiftness and
suddenness, and was prolonged almost to the extreme limit of nervous
endurance. On account of the lateness of the season and the rocky,
precipitous, and extremely dangerous character of the coast in the
vicinity of Gizhiga, the captain of the bark had not deemed it prudent
to run into the mouth of the Gizhiga River at the point of the long
A-shaped gulf, but had anchored on a shoal off the eastern coast, at a
distance from the beacon-tower of nearly twenty miles. From our point
of view on land, the vessel was entirely out of sight; but I knew
where she lay, and did not anticipate any difficulty in getting on
board as soon as I should finish my work ashore.

I intended to go off to the ship with the last of Sandford's party on
the morning of September 11th, but I was detained unexpectedly by the
presentation of a number of native claims and other unforeseen matters
of business, and when I had finally settled and closed up everything
it was four o'clock in the afternoon. In the high latitude of
north-eastern Siberia a September night shuts in early, and I felt
some hesitation about setting out at such an hour, in an open boat,
for a vessel lying twenty miles at sea; but I knew that the captain
of the _Onward_ was very nervous and anxious to get away from that
dangerous locality; the wind, which was blowing a fresh breeze off
shore, would soon take us down the coast to the vessel's anchorage;
and after a moment of indecision I gave the order to start. There were
eight men of us, including Sandford, Bowsher, Heck, and four others
whose names I cannot now recall.

Our boat was an open sloop-rigged sail-boat, about twenty-five feet in
length, which we had bought from a Russian merchant named Phillipeus.
I had not before that time paid much attention to her, but so far as I
knew she was safe and seaworthy. There was some question, however, as
to whether she carried ballast enough for her sail-area, and at the
last moment, to make sure of being on the safe side, I had two of
Sandford's men roll down and put on board two barrels of sugar from
the Company's storehouse. I then bade good-bye to Dodd and Frost, the
comrades who had shared with me so many hardships and perils, took a
seat in the stern-sheets of the little sloop, and we were off.

It was a dark, gloomy, autumnal evening, and the stiff north-easterly
breeze which came to us in freshening gusts over the snow-whitened
crest of the Stanavoi range had a keen edge, suggestive of approaching
winter. The sea, however, was comparatively smooth, and until we got
well out into the gulf the idea of possible danger never so much
as suggested itself to me. But as we left the shelter of the high,
iron-bound coast the wind seemed to increase in strength, the sea
began to rise, and the sullen, darkening sky, as the gloom of night
gathered about us, gave warning of heavy weather. It would have been
prudent, while it was still light, to heave the sloop to and take
a reef, if not a double reef, in the mainsail; but Heck, who was
managing the boat, did not seem to think this necessary, and in
another hour, when the necessity of reefing had become apparent to
everybody, the sea was so high and dangerous that we did not dare to
come about for fear of capsizing, or shipping more green water than we
could readily dispose of. So we staggered on before the rising gale,
trusting to luck, and hoping every moment that we should catch sight
of the _Onward's_ lights.

It has always seemed to me that the most dangerous point of sailing
in a small open boat in a high combing sea is running dead before
the wind. When you are sailing close-hauled, you can luff up into a
squall, if necessary, or meet a steep, dangerous sea bow on; but when
you are scudding you are almost helpless. You can neither luff, nor
spill the wind out of the sail by slackening off the sheet, nor put
your boat in a position to take a heavy sea safely. The end of your
long boom is liable to trip as you roll and wallow through the waves,
and every time you rise on the crest of a big comber your rudder comes
out of water, and your bow swings around until there is imminent
danger of an accidental jibe.

Heck, who managed our sloop, was a fairly good sailor, but as the wind
increased, the darkness thickened, and the sea grew higher and higher,
it became evident to me that nothing but unusually good luck would
enable us to reach the ship in safety. We were not shipping any water,
except now and then a bucketful of foam and spray blown from the crest
of a wave; but the boat was yawing in a very dangerous way as she
mounted the high, white-capped rollers, and I was afraid that sooner
or later she would swing around so far that even with the most skilful
steering a jibe would be inevitable.

It was very dark; I had lost sight of the land; and I don't know
exactly in what part of the gulf we were when the dreaded catastrophe
came. The sloop rose on the back of an exceptionally high, combing
sea, hung poised for an instant on its crest, and then, with a wide
yaw to starboard which the rudder was powerless to check, swooped down
sidewise into the hollow, rolling heavily to port and pointing her
boom high up into the gale. When I saw the dark outline of the leech
of the mainsail waver for an instant, flap once or twice, and then
suddenly collapse, I knew what was coming, and shouting at the top of
my voice, "Look out Heck! She'll jibe!" I instinctively threw myself
into the bottom of the boat to escape the boom. With a quick, sudden
rush, ending in a great crash, the long heavy spar swept across the
boat from starboard to port, knocking Bowsher overboard and carrying
away the mast. The sloop swung around into the trough of the sea, in a
tangle of sails, sheets, halyards, and standing rigging; and the next
great comber came plump into her, filling her almost to the gunwales
with a white smother of foam. I thought for a moment that she had
swamped and was sinking; but as I rose to a crouching posture and
rubbed the saltwater out of my eyes, I saw that she was less than half
full, and that if we did not ship another sea too soon, prompt and
energetic bailing might yet keep her afloat.

"Bail her out, boys! For your lives! With your hats!" I shouted: and
began scooping out the water with my fur hood.

Eight men bailing for life, even with hats and caps, can throw a great
deal of water out of a boat in a very short time; and within five or
ten minutes the first imminent danger of sinking was over. Bowsher,
who was a good swimmer and had not been seriously hurt by the boom,
climbed back into the boat; we cut away the standing rigging, freed
the sloop from the tangle of cordage, and got the water-soaked
mainsail on board; and then, tying a corner of this sail to the stump
of the mast, we spread it as well as we could, so that it would catch
a little wind and give the boat steerage-way. Under the influence of
this scrap of canvas the sloop swung slowly around, across the seas;
the water ceased to come into her; and wringing out our wet caps and
clothing, we began to breathe more freely.

When the first excitement of the crisis had passed and I recovered
my self-possession, I tried to estimate, as coolly as possible, our
prospects and our chances. The situation seemed to me almost hopeless.
We were in a dismasted boat, without oars, without a compass, without
a morsel of food or a mouthful of water, and we were being blown out
to sea in a heavy north-easterly gale. It was so dark that we could
not see the land on either side of the constantly widening gulf; there
was no sign of the _Onward_; and in all probability there was not
another vessel in any part of the Okhotsk Sea. The nearest land was
eight or ten miles distant; we were drifting farther and farther away
from it; and in our disabled and helpless condition there was not the
remotest chance of our reaching it. In all probability our sloop would
not live through the night in such a gale; and even should she remain
afloat until morning, we should then be far out at sea, with nothing
to eat or drink, and with no prospect of being picked up. If the wind
should hold in the direction in which it was blowing, it would carry
us past the _Onward_ at a distance of at least three miles; we had no
lantern with which to attract the attention of the ship's watch, even
should we happen to drift past her within sight; the captain did not
know that we were coming off to the bark that night, and would not
think of looking out for us; and so far as I could discover, there was
not a ray of hope for us in any direction.

How long we drifted out in black darkness, and in that tumbling,
threatening, foam-crested sea, I do not know. It seemed to me many
hours. I had a letter in my pocket which I had written the day before
to my mother, and which I had intended to send down to San Francisco
with the bark. In it I assured her that she need not feel any further
anxiety about my safety, because the Russian-American telegraph line
had been abandoned. I was to be landed by the _Onward_ at Okhotsk; I
was coming home by way of St. Petersburg over a good post-road; and
I should not be exposed to any more dangers. As I sat there in the
dismasted sloop, shivering with cold and drifting out to sea before a
howling arctic gale, I remembered this letter, and wondered what my
poor mother would think if she could read its contents and at the same
time see in a mental vision the situation of the writer.

So far as I can remember, there was very little talking among the men
during these long, dark hours of suspense. None of us, I think, had
any hope; it was hard to make one's voice heard above the roaring of
the wind; and we all sat or cowered in the bottom of the boat, waiting
for an end which could not be very far away. Now and then a heavy sea
would break over us, and we would all begin bailing again with our
hats; but aside from this there was nothing to be done. It did not
seem to me probable that the half-wrecked sloop would live more than
three or four hours. The gale was constantly rising, and every few
minutes we were lashed with stinging whips of icy spray, as a fierce
squall struck the water to windward, scooped off the crests of the
waves, and swept them horizontally in dense white clouds across the
boat.

It must have been about nine o'clock when somebody in the bow shouted
excitedly, "I see a light!"

"Where away?" I cried, half rising from the bottom of the boat in the
stern-sheets.

"Three or four points off the port bow," the voice replied.

"Are you sure?" I demanded.

"I'm not quite sure, but I saw the twinkle of something away over
on the Matuga Island side. It's gone now," the voice added, after a
moment's pause; "but I saw something."

We all looked eagerly and anxiously in the direction indicated; but
strain our vision as we might, we could not see the faintest gleam or
twinkle in the impenetrable darkness to leeward. If there was a light
visible, in that or in any other direction, it could only be the
anchor-light of the _Onward_, because both coasts of the gulf were
uninhabited; but it seemed to me probable that the man had been
deceived by a sparkle of phosphorescence or the gleam of a white
foam-crest.

For fully five minutes no one spoke, but all stared into the thick
gloom ahead. Then, suddenly, the same voice cried aloud in a tone
of still greater excitement, assurance, and certainty, "There it is
again! I knew I saw it! It's a ship's light!"

In another moment I caught sight of it myself--a faint, distant,
intermittent twinkle on the horizon nearly dead ahead.

"It's the anchor-light of the _Onward_!" I shouted in fierce
excitement. "Spread the corner of the mainsail a little more if you
can, boys, so as to give her better steerage-way. We've got to make
that ship! Hold her steady on the light, Heck, even if you have to put
her in the trough of the sea. We might as well founder as drift past!"

The men forward caught up the loose edges of the mainsail and extended
it as widely as possible to the gale, clinging to the thwarts and the
stump of the mast to avoid being jerked overboard by the bellying
canvas. Heck brought the sloop's head around so that the light was
under our bow, and on we staggered through the dark, storm-lashed
turmoil of waters, shipping a sea now and then, but half sailing, half
drifting toward the anchored bark. The wind came in such fierce
gusts and squalls that one could hardly say from what quarter it was
blowing; but, as nearly as I could judge in the thick darkness, it had
shifted three or four points to the westward. If such were the case,
we had a fair chance of making the ship, which lay nearer the eastern
than the western coast of the gulf.

"Don't let her head fall off any, Heck," I cried. "Jam her over to the
eastward as much as you can, even if the sea comes into her. We can
keep her clear with our hats. If we drift past we're gone!"

As we approached the bark the light grew rapidly brighter: but I did
not realise how near we were until the lantern, which was hanging in
the ship's fore-rigging, swung for an instant behind the jib-stay, and
the vessel's illuminated cordage suddenly came out in delicate tracery
against the black sky, less than a hundred yards away.

"There she is!" shouted Sandford. "We're close on her!"

The bark was pitching furiously to her anchors, and as we drifted
rapidly down upon her we could hear the hoarse roar of the gale
through her rigging, and see a pale gleam of foam as the sea broke in
sheets of spray against her bluff bows.

"Shall I try to round to abreast of her?" cried Heck to me, "or shall
I go bang down on her?"

"Don't take any chances," I shouted. "Better strike her, and go to
pieces alongside, than miss her and drift past. Make ready now to hail
her--all together--one,--two,--three! Bark aho-o-y! Stand by to throw
us a line!"

But no sound came from the huge black shadow under the pitching
lantern save the deep bass roar of the storm through the cordage.

We gave one more fierce, inarticulate cry as the dark outline of the
bark rose on a sea high above our heads; and then, with a staggering
shock and a great crash, the boat struck the ship's bow.

What happened in the next minute I hardly know. I have a confused
recollection of being thrown violently across a thwart in a white
smother of foam; of struggling to my feet and clutching frantically at
a wet, black wall, and of hearing some one shout in a wild, despairing
voice: "Watch ahoy! We're sinking! For God's sake throw us a
line!"--but that is all.

The water-logged sloop seesawed up and down past the bark's side, one
moment rising on a huge comber until I could almost grasp the rail,
and the next sinking into a deep hollow between the surges, far below
the line of the copper sheathing. We tore the ends of our finger-nails
off against the ship's side in trying to stop the boat's drift, and
shouted despairingly again and again for help and a line; but our
voices were drowned in the roar of the gale, there was no response,
and the next sea carried us under the bark's counter. I made one last
clutch at the smooth, wet planks; and then, as we drifted astern past
the ship, I abandoned hope.

The sloop was sinking rapidly,--I was already standing up to my knees
in water,--and in thirty seconds more we should be out of sight of the
bark, in the dark, tumbling sea to leeward, with no more chance of
rescue than if we were drowning in mid-Atlantic. Suddenly a dark
figure in the boat beside me,--I learned afterward that it was
Bowsher,--tore off his coat and waistcoat and made a bold leap into
the sea to windward. He knew that it was certain death to drift out of
sight of the bark in that sinking sloop, and he hoped to be able to
swim alongside until he should be picked up. I myself had not thought
of this before, but I saw instantly that it offered a forlorn hope of
escape, and I was just poised in the act of following his example when
on the quarter-deck of the bark, already twenty feet away, a white
ghost-like figure appeared with uplifted arm, and a hoarse voice
shouted, "Stand by to catch a line!"

It was the _Onward's_ second mate. He had heard our cries in his
state-room as we drifted under the ship's counter, and had instantly
sprung from his berth and rushed on deck in his night-shirt.

By the dim light of the binnacle I could just see the coil of rope
unwind as it left his hand; but I could not see where it fell; I knew
that there would be no time for another throw; and it seemed to me
that my heart did not beat again until I heard from the bow of the
sloop a cheery shout of "All right! I've got the line! Slack off till
I make it fast!"

In thirty seconds more we were safe. The second mate roused the watch,
who had apparently taken refuge in the forecastle from the storm; the
sloop was hauled up under the bark's stern; a second line was thrown
to Bowsher, and one by one we were hoisted, in a sort of improvised
breeches-buoy, to the _Onward's_ quarterdeck. As I came aboard,
coatless, hatless, and shivering from cold and excitement, the captain
stared at me in amazement for a moment, and then exclaimed: "Good God!
Mr. Kennan, is that you? What possessed you to come off to the ship
such a night as this?"

"Well, Captain," I replied, trying to force a smile, "it didn't blow
in this way when we started; and we had an accident--carried our mast
away."

"But," he remonstrated, "it has been blowing great guns ever since
dark. We've got two anchors down, and we've been dragging them both. I
finally had them buoyed, and told the mate that if they dragged again
we'd slip the cables and run out to sea. You might not have found us
here at all, and then where would you have been?"

"Probably at the bottom of the gulf," I replied. "I haven't expected
anything else for the last three hours."

The ill-fated sloop from which we made this narrow escape was so
crushed in her collision with the bark that the sea battered her to
pieces in the course of the night, and when I went on deck the next
morning, a few ribs and shattered planks, floating awash at the end of
the line astern, were all of her that remained.

[Illustration: War and Hunting Knives.
Snowbeaters used for beating snow from the clothing.]



CHAPTER XXXIX


START FOR ST. PETERSBURG ROUTE TO YAKUTSK--A TUNGUSE ENCAMPMENT--
CROSSING THE STANAVOI MOUNTAINS--SEVERE COLD--FIRE-LIGHTED SMOKE
PILLARS--ARRIVAL IN YAKUTSK

When we reached Okhotsk, about the middle of September, I found a
letter from Major Abaza, brought by special courier from Yakutsk,
directing me to come to St. Petersburg by the first winter road. The
_Onward_ sailed for San Francisco at once, carrying back to home and
civilisation all of our employees except four, viz., Price, Schwartz,
Malchanski, and myself. Price intended to accompany me to St.
Petersburg, while Schwartz and Malchanski, who were Russians, decided
to go with us as far as Irkutsk, the east-Siberian capital.

Snow fell in sufficient quantities to make good sledging about the 8th
of October; but the rivers did not freeze over so that they could be
crossed until two weeks later. On the 21st of the month, Schwartz and
Malchanski started with three or four light dog-sledges to break a
road through the deep, freshly fallen snow, in the direction of the
Stanavoi Mountains, and on the 24th Price and I followed with the
heavier baggage and provisions. The whole population of the village
turned out to see us off. The long-haired priest, with his cassock
flapping about his legs in the keen wind of a wintry morning, stood
bareheaded in the street and gave us his farewell blessing; the
women, whose hearts we had made glad with American baking-powder and
telegraph teacups, waved bright-coloured handkerchiefs to us from
their open doors; cries of "Good-bye!" "God grant you a fortunate
journey!" came to us from the group of fur-clad men who surrounded our
sledges; and the air trembled with the incessant howls of a hundred
wolfish dogs, as they strained impatiently against their broad
sealskin collars.

"Ai! Maxim!" shouted the ispravnik to our leading driver, "are you all
ready?"

"All ready," was the reply.

"Well, then, go, with God!" and, amid a chorus of good wishes and
good-byes from the crowd, the spiked sticks which held our sledges
were removed; the howls instantly ceased as the dogs sprang eagerly
into their collars, and the group of fur-clad men, the green, bulbous
church domes, and the grey, unpainted log houses of the dreariest
village in all Siberia vanished behind us forever in a cloud of
powdery snow.

The so-called "post-road" from Kamchatka to St. Petersburg, which
skirts the Okhotsk Sea for more than a thousand miles, passes through
the village of Okhotsk, and then, turning away from the coast, ascends
one of the small rivers that rise in the Stanavoi Mountains; crosses
that range at a height of four or five thousand feet; and finally
descends into the great valley of the Lena. It must not be supposed,
however, that this "post-road" resembles anything that we know by that
name. The word "road," in north-eastern Siberia, is only a verbal
symbol standing for an abstraction. The thing symbolised has no more
real, tangible existence than a meridian of longitude. It is simply
lineal extension in a certain direction. The country back of Okhotsk,
for a distance of six hundred miles, is an unbroken wilderness of
mountains and evergreen forests, sparsely inhabited by Wandering
Tunguses, with here and there a few hardy Yakut squirrel hunters.
Through this wilderness there is not even a trail, and the so-called
"road" is only a certain route which is taken by the government
postilion who carries the yearly mail to and from Kamchatka. The
traveller who starts from the Okhotsk Sea with the intention of going
across Asia by way of Yakutsk and Irkutsk must make up his mind to be
independent of roads;--at least for the first fifteen hundred miles.
The mountain passes, the great rivers, and the post-stations, will
determine his general course; but the wilderness through which he
must make his way has never been subdued by the axe and spade of
civilisation. It is now, as it always has been, a wild, primeval land
of snowy mountains, desolate steppes, and shaggy pine forests, through
which the great arctic rivers and their tributaries have marked out
the only lines of intercommunication.

The worst and most difficult part of the post-route between Okhotsk
and Yakutsk, viz., the mountainous part, is maintained by a half-wild
tribe of arctic nomads known to the Russians as Tunguses. Living
originally, as they did, in skin tents, moving constantly from place
to place, and earning a scanty subsistence by breeding reindeer, they
were easily persuaded by the Russian Government to encamp permanently
along the route, and furnish reindeer and sledges for the
transportation of couriers and the imperial mails, together with
such travellers as should be provided with government orders, or
"podorozhnayas." In return for this service they were exempted from
the annual tax levied by Russia upon her other Siberian subjects; were
supplied with a certain yearly allowance of tea and tobacco; and were
authorised to collect from the travellers whom they carried a fare to
be computed at the rate of about two and a half cents per mile for
every reindeer furnished. Between Okhotsk and Yakutsk, along the line
of this post-route, there are seven or eight Tunguse encampments,
which vary a little in location, from season to season, with the
shifting areas of available pasturage, but which are kept as nearly
as possible equidistant from one another in a direct line across the
Stanavoi range.

We hoped to make the first post-station on the third day after our
departure; but the soft freshly fallen snow so retarded our progress
that it was nearly dark on the fourth day before we caught sight of
the little group of Tunguse tents where we were to exchange our dogs
for reindeer. If there be, in "all the white world," as the Russians
say, anything more hopelessly dreary than one of the Tunguse mountain
settlements in winter, I have never seen it. Away up above the
forests, on some elevated plateau, or desolate, storm-swept height,
where nothing but berry bushes and arctic moss will grow, stand the
four or five small, grey reindeerskin tents which make up the nomad
encampment. There are no trees or shrubs around them to shut out a
part of the sky, limit the horizon, or afford the least semblance of
shelter to the lonely settlement, and there is no wall or palisade to
fence in and domesticate for finite purposes a little corner of the
infinite. The grey tents seem to stand alone in the great universe of
God, with never-ending space and unbounded desolation stretching away
from their very doors. Take your stand near such an encampment and
look at it more closely. The surface of the snowy plain around you,
as far as you can see, has been trampled and torn up by reindeer in
search of moss. Here and there between the tents stand the large
sledges upon which the Tunguses load their camp-equipage when they
move, and in front is a long, low wall, made of symmetrically piled
reindeer packs and saddles. A few driving deer wander around, with
their noses to the ground, looking for something that they never
seem to find; evil-looking ravens--the scavengers of Tunguse
encampments--flap heavily past with hoarse croaks to a patch of
blood-stained snow where a reindeer has recently been slaughtered;
and in the foreground, two or three grey, wolfish dogs with cruel,
light-coloured eyes, are gnawing at a half-stripped reindeer's head.
The thermometer stands at forty-five degrees below zero, Fahrenheit,
and the breasts of deer, ravens, and dogs are white with frost. The
thin smoke from the conical fur tents rises perpendicularly to a great
height in the clear, still air; the ghostly mountain peaks in
the distance look like white silhouettes on a background of dark
steel-blue; and the desolate snow-covered landscape is faintly tinged
with a yellow glare by the low-hanging wintry sun. Every detail of the
scene is strange, wild, arctic,--even to the fur-clad, frost-whitened
men who come riding up to the tents astride the shoulders of panting
reindeer and salute you with a drawling "Zdar-o-o-va!" as they put one
end of their balancing poles to the ground and spring from their flat,
stirrupless saddles. You can hardly realise that you are in the same
active, bustling, money-getting world in which you remember once to
have lived. The cold, still atmosphere, the white, barren mountains,
and the great lonely wilderness around you are all full of cheerless,
depressing suggestions, and have a strange unearthliness which you
cannot reconcile or connect with any part of your pre-Siberian life.

At the first Tunguse encampment we took a rest of twenty-four hours,
and then, exchanging our dogs for reindeer, we bade good-bye to our
Okhotsk drivers and, under the guidance of half a dozen bronze-faced
Tunguses in spotted reindeerskin coats, pushed westward, through
snow-choked mountain ravines, toward the river Aldan. Our progress,
for the first two weeks, was slow and fatiguing and attended with
difficulties and hardships of almost every possible kind. The Tunguse
encampments were sometimes three or four days' journey apart; the
cold, as we ascended the Stanavoi range, steadily increased in
intensity until it became so severe as to endanger life, and day
after day we plodded wearily on snowshoes ahead of our heavily
loaded sledges, breaking a road in three feet of soft snow for our
struggling, frost-whitened deer. We made, on an average, about thirty
miles a day; but our deer often came in at night completely exhausted,
and the sharp ivory goads of our Tunguse drivers were red with frozen
blood. Sometimes we bivouacked at night in a wild mountain gorge
and lighted up the snow-laden forest with the red glare of a mighty
camp-fire; sometimes we shovelled the drifted snow out of one of the
empty _yurts_, or earth-covered cabins, built by the government along
the route to shelter its postilions, and took refuge therein from
a howling blizzard. Hardened as we were by two previous winters of
arctic travel, and accustomed as we were to all the vicissitudes of
northern life, the crossing of the Stanavoi range tried our powers of
endurance to the uttermost. For four successive days, near the summit
of the pass on the western slope, mercury froze at noon. [Footnote:
We had only a mercurial thermometer, so that we did not know how much
below -39° the temperature was.] The faintest breath of air seared the
face like a hot iron; beards became tangled masses of frosty wire;
eyelids grew heavy with long snowy fringes which half obscured the
sight; and only the most vigorous exercise would force the blood back
into the benumbed extremities from which it was constantly being
driven by the iron grasp of the cold. Schwartz, the oldest member of
our party, was brought into a Tunguse encampment one night in a state
of unconsciousness that would soon have ended in death, and even our
hardy native drivers came in with badly frozen hands and faces. The
temperature alone would have been sufficient evidence, if evidence
were needed, that we were entering the coldest region on the
globe--the Siberian province of Yakutsk. [Footnote: In some parts of
this province the freezing point of mercury, or about forty degrees
below zero Fahrenheit, is the average temperature of the three winter
months, and eighty-five degrees below zero have sometimes been
observed.]

In a monotonous routine of walking on snowshoes, riding on
reindeer-sledges, camping in the open, or sleeping in smoky Tunguse
tents, day after day and week after week passed, until at last we
approached the valley of the Aldan--one of the eastern tributaries of
that great arctic river the Lena. Climbing the last outlying ridge of
the Stanavoi range, one dark, moonless evening in November, we found
ourselves at the head of a wild ravine leading downward into an
extensive open plain. Away below and in front, outlined against the
intense blackness of the hills beyond the valley, rose four or five
columns of luminous mist, like pillars of fire in the wilderness of
the Exodus.

"What are those?" I inquired of my Tunguse driver.

"Yakut," was the brief reply.

They were columns of smoke, sixty or seventy feet in height, over the
chimneys of Yakut farmhouses; and they stood so vertically in the
cold, motionless air of the arctic night that they were lighted up, to
their very summits, by the hearth-fires underneath. As I stood looking
at them, there came faintly to my ears the far-away lowing of cattle.
"Thank God!" I said to Malchanski, who at that moment rode up, "we are
getting, at last, where they live in houses and keep cows!" No one can
fully understand the pleasure that these columns of fire-lighted smoke
gave us until he has ridden on dog- or reindeer-sledges, or walked on
snowshoes, for twenty interminable days, through an arctic wilderness.
It seemed to me a year since our departure from Okhotsk; for weeks we
had not taken off our heavy armour of furs; mirrors, beds and clean
linen were traditions of the remote past; and American civilisation,
as we looked back at it across twenty-seven months of barbarism, faded
into the unreal imagery of a dream. But the pillars of fire-lighted
smoke and the lowing of domestic cattle were a promise of better
things.

In less than two hours, we were sitting before the glowing fireplace
of a comfortable Yakut house, with a soft carpet under our feet;
real crockery cups of fragrant Kiakhta tea on a table beside us, and
pictures on the wall over our heads. The house, it is true, had slabs
of ice for windows; the carpet was made of deerskins; and the pictures
were only woodcuts from _Harper's Weekly_ and _Frank Leslie's_; but to
us, fresh from the smoky tents of the Tunguses, windows, carpets, and
pictures, of any kind, were things to be wondered at and admired.

Between the Yakut settlements on the Aldan and the town of Yakutsk,
there was a good post-road--really a road; so, harnessing shaggy white
Yakut ponies to our Okhotsk dog-sledges, we drove swiftly westward, to
the unfamiliar music of Russian sleigh-bells, changing horses at every
post-station and riding from fifteen to eighteen hours out of the
twenty-four.

On the 16th of November, after twenty-three days of continuous travel,
we reached Yakutsk; and there, in the house of a wealthy Russian
merchant who threw his doors open to us with warm-hearted hospitality,
we washed from our bodies the smoke and grime of Tunguse tents and
_yurts_; put on clean, fresh clothes; ate a well cooked and daintily
served supper; drank five tumblers of fragrant overland tea; smoked
two Manila cheroots; and finally went to bed, excited but happy, in
beds that were provided with hair mattresses, fleecy Russian blankets,
and linen sheets. The sensation of lying without furs and between
sheets in a civilised bed was so novel and extraordinary that I lay
awake for an hour, trying experiments with that wonderful mattress and
luxuriously exploring, with bare feet, the smooth cool expanses of
linen sheeting.

[Illustration: Travelling Bag made of Reindeer skin]



CHAPTER XL


THE GREATEST HORSE-EXPRESS SERVICE IN THE WORLD--EQUIPMENT FOR
THE ROAD--A SIBERIAN "SEND-OFF"--POST TRAVEL ON THE ICE--BROKEN
SLEEP--DRIVING INTO AN AIR-HOLE--REPAIRING DAMAGES--FIRST SIGHT OF
IRKUTSK

We remained in Yakutsk only four days--just long enough to make the
necessary preparations for a continuous sleigh-ride of five thousand
one hundred and fourteen miles to the nearest railway in European
Russia. The Imperial Russian Post, by which we purposed to travel from
Yakutsk to Nizhni Novgorod, was, at that time, the longest and best
organised horse-express service in the world. It employed 3000 or 4000
drivers, with twice as many _telegas, tarantases_ and sleighs, and
kept in readiness for instant use more than 10,000 horses, distributed
among 350 post-stations, along a route that covered a distance as
great as that between New York City and the Sandwich Islands. If one
had the requisite physical endurance, and could travel night and
day without stop, it was possible, with a courier's "podorozhnaya"
(po-do-rozh'-na-yah), or road-ticket, to go from Yakutsk to Nizhni
Novgorod, a distance of 5114 miles, in twenty-five days, or only
eleven days more than the time occupied by a railway train in covering
about the same distance. Before the establishment of telegraphic
communication between China and Russia, imperial couriers, carrying
important despatches from Peking, often made the distance between
Irkutsk and St. Petersburg--3618 miles--in sixteen days, with two
hundred and twelve changes of horses and drivers. In order to
accomplish this feat they had to eat, drink, and sleep in their
sleighs and make an average speed-rate of ten miles an hour for nearly
four hundred consecutive hours. We did not expect, of course, to
travel with such rapidity as this; but we intended to ride night and
day, and hoped to reach St. Petersburg before the end of the year.
With the aid and advice of Baron Maidel, a Russian scientist who had
just come over the route that we purposed to follow, Price and I
bought a large open _pavoska_ or Siberian travelling sleigh, which
looked like a huge, burlap-covered baby-carriage on runners; had it
brought into the courtyard of our house, and proceeded to fit it up
for six weeks' occupancy as a bedchamber and sitting-room. First of
all, we repacked our luggage in soft, flat, leather pouches, and
stowed it away in the bottom of the deep and capacious vehicle as a
foundation for our bed. We then covered these flat pouches with a
two-foot layer of fragrant hay, to lessen the shock of jolting on a
rough road; spread over the hay a big wolfskin sleeping-sack, about
seven feet in length and wide enough to hold our two bodies; covered
that with two pairs of blankets; and finally lined the whole back part
of the sleigh with large, soft, swan's-down pillows. At the foot of
the sleeping-sack, under the driver's seat, we stowed away a bag of
dried rye-bread, another bag filled with cakes of frozen soup, two or
three pounds of tea, a conical loaf of white sugar, half a dozen dried
and smoked salmon, and a padded box containing teapot, tea-cannister,
sugar-jar, spoons, knives and forks, and two glass tumblers. Schwartz;
and Malchanski bought another _pavoska_ and fitted it up in similar
fashion, and on the 19th of November we obtained from the Bureau
of Posts two _podorozhnayas_, or, as Price called them, "ukases,"
directing every post-station master between Yakutsk and Irkutsk to
furnish us, "by order of his Imperial Majesty Alexander Nikolaivitch,
Autocrat of All the Russias," etc., etc., six horses and two drivers
to carry us on our way.

In every part of the world except Siberia it is customary to start on
a long journey in the morning. In Siberia, however, the proper time is
late in the evening, when all your friends can conveniently assemble
to "provozhat," or, in colloquial English, give you a send-off.
Judging from our experience in Yakutsk, the Siberian custom has the
support of sound reason, inasmuch as the amount of drinking involved
in the riotous ceremony of "provozhanie" unfits a man for any place
except bed, and any occupation more strenuous than slumber. A man
could never see his friend off in the morning and then go back to his
business. He would see double, if not quadruple, and would hardly be
able to speak his native language without a foreign accent. When
the horses came from the post-station for us, at ten o'clock on the
evening of November 20th, we had had one dinner and two or three
incidental lunches; had "sampled" every kind of beverage that our host
had in the house, from vodka and cherry cordial to "John Collins" and
champagne; had sung all the songs we knew, from "John Brown's Body"
in English to "Nastóichka travnáya" in Russian; and Schwartz and
Malchanski were ready, apparently, to make a night of it, send the
horses back to the station, and have another _provozhanie_ the next
day. Price and I, however, insisted that the Czar's ukase to the
station-masters was good only for that evening; that if we didn't
take the horses immediately we should have to pay demurrage; that the
curfew bell had rung; that the town gates would close at ten thirty
sharp; and that if we didn't get under way at once, we should probably
be arrested for riotous disturbance of the peace!

We put on our _kukhlankas_ and fur hoods at last; shook hands once
more all around; and finally got out into the street;--Malchanski
dragging Schwartz off to his sleigh singing the chorus of a Russian
drinking song that ended in "Ras-to-chee'-tel-no! Vos-khe-tee'-tel-no!
Oo-dee-vee'-tel-no!" We then drank a farewell stirrup cup, which our
bareheaded host brought out to us after we had taken our seats, and
were just about to start, when Baron Maidel shouted to me, with an
air of serious concern, "Have you got a club--for the drivers and
station-masters?"

"No," I replied, "I don't need a club; I can talk to them in the most
persuasive Russian you ever heard."

"Akh! Neilza!" ("Impossible") he exclaimed. "It is impossible to go
so! You must have a club! Wait a minute!" and he rushed back into
the house to get me a bludgeon from his private armory. My driver,
meanwhile, who evidently disapproved, on personal grounds, of this
suggestion, laid his whip across his horses' backs with a cry of "Noo,
rebatta!" ("Now then, boys") and we dashed away from the house, just
as the Baron reappeared on the steps brandishing a formidable cudgel
and shouting: "Pastoy! Neilza!" ("Stop, it's impossible.") "You can't
go without a club!" When we turned a neighbouring corner and lost
sight of the house, our host was waving a bottle in one hand and a
lighted candle in the other; Baron Maidel was still gesticulating on
the steps, shouting: "Neilza! Hold on! Club! For your drivers! It's
impossible to go so!" and the little group of "provozhatters" on the
sidewalk were laughing, cheering, and shouting "Good-bye! Good luck!
With God!"

We dashed away at a gallop through the snow-drifted streets, past
earth-banked _yurts_ whose windows of ice were irradiated with a warm
glow by the open fires within; past columns of luminous smoke rising
from the wide chimneys of Yakut houses; past a red stuccoed church
upon whose green, balloon-shaped domes golden stars glittered in the
frosty moonlight; past a lonely graveyard on the outskirts of the
city; and finally down a gentle decline to the snow-covered river,
which had a width of nearly four miles and which stretched away to the
westward like a frozen lake surrounded by dark wooded hills. Up this
great river--the Lena--we were to travel on the ice for a distance of
nearly a thousand miles, following a sinuous, never-ending line of
small evergreen trees, which had been cut in the neighbouring forests
and set up at short intervals in the snow, to guide the drivers in
storms and to mark out a line of safety around air-holes and between
areas of thin ice or stretches of open water. I fell asleep, shortly
after leaving Yakutsk, but was awakened, two or three hours later,
at the first post-station, by the voice of our driver shouting: "Ai!
Boys! Out with the horses--lively!" Two of us then had to alight from
our sleighs, go into the post-station, show our _podorozhnayas_ to the
station-master, and superintend the harnessing of two fresh teams.
Getting back into my fur bag, I lay awake for the next three hours,
listening to the jangle of a big bell on the wooden arch over the
thill-horse's back, and watching, through frosty eyelashes, the dark
outlines of the high wooded shores as they seemed to drift swiftly
past us to the eastward.

The severest hardship of post travel in eastern Siberia in winter is
not the cold, but the breaking up of all one's habits of sleep. In the
first stages of our journey, when the nights were clear and the river
ice was smooth and safe, we made the distances between stations in
from two to three hours; and at the end of every such period we were
awakened, and had to get out of our warm fur bags into a temperature
that was almost always below zero and sometimes forty or fifty degrees
below. When we got back into our vehicles and resumed our journey,
we were usually cold, and just as we would get warm enough to go to
sleep, we would reach another station and again have to turn out.
Sleeping in short snatches, between shivers, to the accompaniment of
a jangling dinner-bell and a driver's shouts, and getting out into
an arctic temperature every two or three hours, night and day, for a
whole week, reduces one to a very fagged and jaded condition. At the
end of the first four days, it seemed to me that I should certainly
have to stop somewhere for an unbroken night's rest; but man is an
animal that gets accustomed to things, and in the course of a week I
became so used to the wild cries of the driver and the jangle of the
thill-horse's bell that they no longer disturbed me, and I gradually
acquired the habit of sleeping, in brief cat-naps, at all hours of the
day and night. As we ascended the river, the moon rose later and
later and the nights were often so dark that our drivers had great
difficulty in following the line of evergreen trees that marked the
road. Finally, about five hundred miles from Yakutsk, a particularly
reckless or self-confident driver got off the road, went ahead at a
venture instead of stopping to look for the evergreen trees, and just
after midnight drove us into an air-hole, about a quarter of a mile
from shore, where the water was thirty feet deep. Price and I were
fast asleep, and were awakened by the crashing of ice, the snorting of
the terrified horses, and the rush of water into the sleigh. I cannot
remember how we got out of our fur bags and gained the solid ice. I
was so bewildered by sleep and so completely taken by surprise that I
must have acted upon blind impulse, without any clear consciousness of
what I was doing. From subsequent examination of the air-hole and the
sleigh, I concluded that we must have jumped from the widely extended
outriggers, which were intended to guard against an accidental
capsize, which had a span of ten or twelve feet, and which rested
on the broken ice around the margin of the hole in such a way as to
prevent the sleigh from becoming completely submerged. But be that as
it may, we all got out on the solid ice in some way, and the first
thing I remember is standing on the edge of the hole, staring at the
swimming, snorting horses, the outlines of whose heads and necks
I could just make out, and wondering whether this were not a
particularly vivid and terrifying nightmare. For an instant, I could
not be absolutely sure that I was awake. In a moment, the other
sleigh, which was only a short distance behind, loomed up through the
darkness and its driver shouted to our man, "What's the matter?"

"Oootonoole!" ("We got drowned") was the reply. "Get out your ropes,
quick, while I run to the shore for some driftwood. The horses
will freeze and sink in a few minutes. Akh! My God! My God! What a
punishment!" and, tearing off his outer fur coat, he started at a run
for the shore. I did not know what he expected to do with driftwood,
but he seemed to have a clear vital idea of some sort, so Price and
I rushed away after him. "We must get a tree, or a small log," he
explained breathlessly as we overtook him, "so I can crawl out on it
and cut the horses loose. But God knows," he added, "whether they'll
hold out till we get back. The water is killing cold." After a few
minutes on the snowy beach, we found a long, slender tree-trunk that
our driver said would do, and began to drag it across the ice. Our
breath, by this time, was coming in short, panting gasps, and when
Schwartz, Malchanski, and the other driver, who ran to our assistance,
took hold of the heavy log, we were on the verge of physical collapse.
When we got back to the air-hole, the horses were still swimming
feebly, but they were fast becoming chilled and exhausted, and it
seemed doubtful whether we should save them. We pushed the log out
over the broken edge of the ice, and five of us held it while our
driver, with a knife between his teeth and a rope about his shoulders,
crawled out on it, cut loose one of the outside horses and fastened
the line around its neck. He then crept back, and we all hauled on the
line until we dragged the poor beast out by the head. It was very much
exhausted and badly scraped by the sharp edge of the ice, but it had
strength enough to scramble to its feet. We then cut loose and hauled
out in the same way the outside horse on the other side. This one was
nearly dead and made no attempt to get up until it had been cruelly
flogged, but it struggled to its feet at last. Cutting loose the
thill-horse was more difficult, as its body was completely submerged
and it was hard to get at the rawhide fastening that held the collar,
the wooden arch, and the thills together, but our plucky driver
succeeded at last, and we dragged the half-frozen animal out. Rescue
came for him, however, too late. He could not rise to his feet and
died, a few moments afterward, from exhaustion and cold. Fastening
ropes to the half-submerged sleigh and harnessing to it the horses of
the other team, we finally pulled that up on the ice. Leaving it there
for the present, we made traverses back and forth across the river
until we found the line of evergreen trees, and then started for the
nearest post-station--Price and I riding with Malchanski and Schwartz
while our driver followed with the two rescued horses. When we reached
the post-station, which was about seven miles away, it was between
three and four o'clock in the morning; and, after rousing the
station-master and sending a driver with a team of fresh horses after
the abandoned sleigh, we drank two or three tumblerfuls of hot tea,
brought in blankets and pillows from the sleigh of Schwartz and
Malchanski, and went to bed on the floor. As a result of this
misadventure, our homeward progress was stopped, and we had to stay at
the village of Krestófskaya two days, while we repaired damages. Our
sleigh, when it came in that morning, was a mass of ice; our fur bag,
blankets, pillows, and spare clothing were water-soaked and frozen
solid; and the contents of our leather pouches were almost ruined.
By distributing our things among half a dozen houses we succeeded in
getting them thawed out and dried in time to make another start at the
end of the second day; but after that time I did not allow myself to
fall asleep at night. We had escaped once, but we might not be so
fortunate again, and I decided to watch the line of evergreen bushes
myself. When we lost the road in the darkness afterward, as we
frequently did, I made the driver stop and searched the river myself
on foot until I found it. The danger that I feared was not so much
getting drowned as getting wet. In temperatures that were almost
continuously below zero, and often twenty or thirty degrees below, a
man in water-soaked clothing would freeze to death in a very short
time, and there were so many air-holes and areas of thin ice that
watchfulness was a matter of vital necessity.

Day after day and night after night we rode swiftly westward, up a
river that was always more than a mile in width and often two or
three; past straggling villages of unpainted log houses clinging
to the steep sides of the mountainous shores; through splendid
precipitous gorges, like those above the Iron Gate of the Danube;
along stretches of flat pasture land where shaggy, white Yakut
ponies were pawing up the snow to get at the withered grass; through
good-sized towns like Kirinsk and Vitimsk, where we began to see
signs of occidental civilisation; and finally, past a stern-wheel,
Ohio-River steamboat, of primitive type, tied up and frozen in near
the head of navigation at Verkholénsk. "Just look at that steamer!"
cried Price, with an unwonted glow of enthusiasm in his boyish face.
"Doesn't that look like home?" At Verkholénsk we abandoned the Lena,
which we had followed up almost to its source, and, leaving the ice
for the first time in two weeks, we started across country in a line
nearly parallel with the western coast of Lake Baikal. We had been
forty-one days on the road from Okhotsk; had covered a distance of
about 2300 miles, and were within a day's ride of Irkutsk.

One bright sunshiny morning in early December, from the crest of
a high hill on the Verkholénsk road, we got our first view of the
east-Siberian capital--a long compact mass of wooden houses with
painted window-shutters; white-walled buildings with roofs of metallic
green; and picturesque Russo-Byzantine churches whose snowy towers
were crowned with inverted balloons of gold or covered with domes of
ultramarine blue spangled with golden stars. Long lines of loaded
sledges from the Mongolian frontier could be seen entering the city
from the south; the streets were full of people; flags were flying
here and there over the roofs of government buildings; and from the
barracks down the river came faintly the music of a regimental band.
Our driver stopped his horses, took off his hat, and turning to us,
with the air of one who owns what he points out, said, proudly,
"Irkutsk!" If he expected us to be impressed--as he evidently did--he
was not disappointed; because Irkutsk, at that time and from that
point of view, was a very striking and beautiful city. We, moreover,
had just come from the desolate moss tundras and wild, lonely forests
of arctic Asia and were in a state of mind to be impressed by anything
that had architectural beauty, or indicated culture, luxury, and
wealth. We had seen nothing that even remotely suggested a city in two
years and a half; and we felt almost as if we were Gothic barbarians
gazing at Rome. It did not even strike us as particularly funny when
our Buriat driver informed us seriously that Irkutsk was so great a
place that its houses had to be numbered in order to enable their
owners to find them! To us, fresh from Gizhiga, Penzhina, and Okhotsk,
a city with numbered houses was really too remarkable and impressive
a thing to be treated with levity, and we therefore received the
information with proper awe and in silence. We could share the native
feeling, even if numbered houses had once been known to us.

Twenty minutes later, we dashed into the city at a gallop, as if we
were imperial couriers with war news; rushed at break-neck speed past
markets, bazaars, telegraph poles, street lamps, big shops with gilded
sign-boards, polished droshkies drawn by high-stepping Orloff horses,
officers in uniform, grey-coated policemen with sabres, and pretty
women hooded in white Caucasian _bashliks_; and finally drew up with a
flourish in front of a comfortable-looking stuccoed hotel--the first
one we had seen in more than twenty-nine months.



CHAPTER XLI


A PLUNGE INTO CIVILISATION--THE NOBLES' BALL--SHOCKING LANGUAGE--
SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH--THE GREAT SIBERIAN ROAD--PASSING TEA
CARAVANS--RAPID TRAVEL--FIFTY-SEVEN HUNDRED MILES IN ELEVEN
WEEKS--ARRIVAL IN ST. PETERSBURG

At Irkutsk, we plunged suddenly from a semi-barbaric environment into
an environment of high civilisation and culture; and our attempts to
adjust ourselves to the new and unfamiliar conditions were attended,
at first, with not a little embarrassment and discomfort. As we were
among the first Americans who had been seen in that Far Eastern
capital, and were officers, moreover, of a company with which the
Russian Government itself had been in partnership, we were not only
treated with distinguished consideration, but were welcomed everywhere
with warm-hearted kindness and hospitality; and we found it necessary
at once to exchange calls with high officials; accept invitations to
dinner; share the box of the Governor-General's chief of staff at the
theatre, and go to the weekly ball of the "noble-born" in the hall
of the "Blagorodnaya Sobrania," (Assembly of Nobles). The first
difficulty that we encountered, of course, was the lack of suitable
clothing. After two and a half years of campaigning in an arctic
wilderness, we had no raiment left that was fit to wear in such a city
as Irkutsk, and--worse than that--we had little money with which to
purchase a new supply. The two hundred and fifty dollars with which
we left Okhotsk had gradually dribbled away in the defrayment of
necessary expenses along the road, and we had barely enough left to
pay for a week's stay at the hotel. In this emergency we fell back
upon our telegraph-company uniforms. They had been soaked in the Lena,
frozen into masses of ice, and stretched all out of shape in the
process of wringing and drying at Krestófskaya; but we got an Irkutsk
tailor to press them and polish up the tarnished gilt buttons, and
after spending most of the money we had left in the purchase of new
fur overcoats to replace the dirty, travel-worn _kukhlankas_ in which
we had arrived, we got ourselves up in presentable form to call on the
Governor-General.

The severest ordeal through which we had to pass, however, was the
dance at the hall of the Blagorodnaya Sobrania to which we were
escorted by General Kukel (koo'-kel), the Governor-General's chief of
staff. The spacious and brilliantly lighted apartment, draped with
flags and decorated with evergreens; the polished dancing-floor;
the crash and blare of the music furnished by a military band; the
beautiful women in rich evening toilettes; and the throng of handsome
young officers in showy and diversified uniforms, simply overwhelmed
us with feelings of mingled excitement and embarrassment. I felt,
myself, like a uniformed Eskimo at a Charity Ball, and should have
been glad to skulk in a corner behind the band! All I wanted was an
opportunity to watch, unobserved, the brilliant picture of colour and
motion, and to feel the thrill of the music as the band swept, with
wonderful dash, swing, and precision, through the measures of a
spirited Polish mazurka. General Kukel, however, had other views
for us, and not only took us about the hall, introducing us to more
beautiful women than we had seen, we thought, in the whole course of
our previous existence, but said to every lady, as he presented us:
"Mr. Kennan and Mr. Price, you know, speak Russian perfectly." Price,
with discretion beyond his years, promptly disclaimed the imputed
accomplishment; but I was rash enough to admit that I did have some
knowledge of the language in question, and was forthwith drawn into a
stream of rapid Russian talk by a young woman with sympathetic face
and sparkling eyes, who encouraged me to describe dog-sledge travel
in north-eastern Asia and the vicissitudes of tent life with the
Wandering Koraks. On this conversational ground I felt perfectly at
home; and I was succeeding, as I thought, admirably, when the girl
suddenly blushed, looked a trifle shocked, and then bit her lip in
a manifest effort to restrain a smile of amusement not warranted by
anything in the life that I was trying to describe. She was soon
afterward carried away by a young Cossack officer who asked her to
dance, and I was promptly engaged in conversation by another lady, who
also wanted "to hear an American talk Russian." My self-confidence had
been a little shaken by the blush and the amused smile of my previous
auditor, but I rallied my intellectual forces, took a firm grip of my
Russian vocabulary, and, as Price would say, "sailed in." But I soon
struck another snag. This young woman, too, began to show symptoms
of shock, which, in her case, took the form of amazement. I was
absolutely sure that there was nothing in the subject-matter of my
remarks to bring a blush to the cheek of innocence, or give a shock to
the virgin mind of feminine youth, and yet it was perfectly evident
that there was something wrong. As soon as I could make my escape,
I went to General Kukel and said: "Will you please tell me, Your
Excellency, what's the matter with my Russian?"

"What makes you think there's anything the matter with it?" he replied
evasively, but with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes.

"It doesn't seem to go very well," I said, "in conversation with
women. They appear to understand it all right, but it gives them a
shock. Is my pronunciation so horribly bad?"

"You speak Russian," he said, "with quite extraordinary fluency,
and with a-a-really interesting and engaging accent; but--excuse
me please--shall I be entirely frank? You see you have learned the
language, under many disadvantages, among the Koraks, Cossacks, and
Chukchis of Kamchatka and the Okhotsk Sea coast, and--quite innocently
and naturally of course--you have picked up a few words and
expressions that are not--well, not--"

"Not used in polite society," I suggested.

"Hardly so much as that," he replied deprecatingly. "They're a little
queer, that 's all--quaint--bizarre--but it's nothing! nothing at all!
All you need is a little study of good models--books, you know--and a
few months of city life."

"That settles it!" I said. "I talk no more Russian to ladies in
Irkutsk."

When, upon my arrival in St. Petersburg, I had an opportunity to study
the language in books, and to hear it spoken by educated people, I
found that the Russian I had picked up by Kamchatkan camp-fires and
in Cossack _izbas_ on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea resembled, in many
respects, the English that a Russian would acquire in a Colorado
mining camp, or among the cowboys in Montana. It was fluent, but, as
General Kukel said, "quaint--bizarre," and, at times, exceedingly
profane.

I was not the only person in Irkutsk, however, whose vocabulary was
peculiar and whose diction was "quaint" and "bizarre." A day or two
after the ball of the Blagorodnaya Sobrania we received a call from a
young Russian telegraph operator who had heard of our arrival and who
wished to pay his respects to us as brother telegraphers from America.
I greeted him cordially in Russian; but he began, at once, to speak
English, and said that he would prefer to speak that language, for
the sake of practice. His pronunciation, although queer, was fairly
intelligible, and I had little difficulty in understanding him; but
his talk had a strange, mediaeval flavour, due, apparently, to the use
of obsolete idioms and words. In the course of half an hour, I
became satisfied that he was talking the English of the fifteenth
century--the English of Shakespeare, Beaumont, and Fletcher--but how
he had learned such English, in the nineteenth century and in the
capital of eastern Siberia, I could not imagine. I finally asked him
how he had managed to get such command of the language in a city
where, so far as I knew, there was no English teacher. He replied that
the Russian Government required of its telegraph operators a knowledge
of Russian and French, and then added two hundred and fifty rubles
a year to their salaries for every additional language that they
learned. He wanted the two hundred and fifty rubles, so he began the
study of English with a small English-French dictionary and an old
copy of Shakespeare. He got some help in acquiring the pronunciation
from educated Polish exiles, and from foreigners whom he occasionally
met, but, in the main, he had learned the language alone, and by
committing to memory dialogues from Shakespeare's plays. I described
to him my recent experience with Russian, and told him that his method
was, unquestionably, better than mine. He had learned English from the
greatest master of the language that ever lived; while I had picked
up my Russian from Cossack dog-drivers and illiterate Kamchadals. He
could talk to young women in the eloquent and impassioned words of
Romeo, while my language was fit for backwoodsmen only.

At the end of our first week in Irkutsk, we were ready to resume our
journey; but we had no money with which to pay our hotel bill, still
less our travelling expenses. I had telegraphed to Major Abaza
repeatedly for funds, but had received no reply, and I was finally
compelled to go, in humiliation of spirit, to Governor General
Sheláshnikoff, and borrow five hundred rubles.

On the 13th of December, we were again posting furiously along the
Great Siberian Road, past caravans, of tea from Hankow; detachments
of Cossacks convoying gold from the placers of the Lena; parties of
hard-labour convicts on their way to the mines of the trans-Baikal;
and hundreds of sleighs loaded with the products or manufactures of
Russia, Siberia, and the Far East.

For the first thousand miles, our progress was retarded and our rest
greatly broken--particularly at night--by tea caravans. With the
establishment of the winter road, in November, hundreds of low,
one-horse sledges, loaded with hide-bound boxes of tea that had come
across the desert of Gobi from Peking, left Irkutsk, every day, for
Nizhni Novgorod. They moved in solid caravans, a quarter of a mile to
a mile in length, and in every such caravan there were from fifty to
two hundred sledges. As the tea-horses went at a slow, plodding
walk, their drivers were required, by law, to turn out for private
travellers and give the latter the road; but they seldom did anything
of the kind. There were only twelve or fifteen of them to a caravan
of a hundred sledges; and as they usually curled up on their loads at
night and went fast asleep, it was practically impossible to arouse
them and get the caravan out of the middle of the road. In order to
pass, therefore, we ourselves had to turn out and drive three quarters
of a mile, or possibly a mile, through the deep soft snow on one side
of the beaten track. This so exasperated our driver that he would
give every horse and every sleeping teamster in the whole caravan
a slashing cut with his long rawhide whip, shouting, in almost
untranslatable Russian, "Wake up!" (Whack.) "Get a move on you!"
(Whack.) "What are you doing in the middle of the road there?"
(Whack.) "Akh! You ungodly Tartar pagans!" (Whack.) "GO TO SLEEP IN
THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, WILL YOU?" (Whack, whack.) Meanwhile, the
strongly braced outrigger of our _pavoska_, on the caravan side, would
strike every one of the tea-sledges, as we passed, and the long series
of violent shocks, combined with the rolling and pitching of our
vehicle, as it wallowed through the deep snow, would be enough to
awaken a man from anything except the last sleep of death. Usually, we
were aroused by our driver's preliminary shouts when we first came in
sight of a caravan; but sometimes we were in such a stupor of sleep
that we did not awake until the outrigger collided with the first load
of tea and brought us suddenly to consciousness with a half-dazed
impression that we had been struck by lightning, or hit by a falling
tree. If we had had to undergo this experience only once or twice
in the course of the night, it would not have been so bad; but we
sometimes passed half a dozen caravans between sunset and dawn; threw
every one of them into disorder and confusion with outrigger and whip;
and left behind us a wake of Russian and Tartar profanity almost
fiery enough to be luminous in the dark. Shortly after leaving Tomsk,
however, we passed the vanguard of these tea caravans and saw them no
more.

The road in western Siberia was hard and smooth, and the horses were
so good that we made very rapid progress with comparatively little
discomfort. We stopped only twice a day for meals, and every night
found us 175 or 200 miles nearer our destination than we had been the
night before. We succeeded in getting across the Urals before the end
of the year, and on the 7th of January, after twenty-five days of
almost incessant night-and-day travel, we drew up before a hotel in
the city of Nizhni Novgorod, which, at that time, was the eastern
terminus of the Russian railway system. We sold our sleigh, fur bag,
pillows, tea-equipment, and the provisions we had left, for what
they would bring--a beggarly sum; took a train the same day for St.
Petersburg; and reached the Russian capital on the 9th of January,
eleven weeks from the Okhotsk Sea by way of Yakutsk, Irkutsk, Tomsk,
Tiumen, Ekaterineburg, and Nizhni Novgorod. In the eleven weeks we
had changed dogs, reindeer, or horses more than two hundred and sixty
times and had made a distance of five thousand seven hundred and
fourteen miles, nearly all of it in a single sleigh.

[Illustration: Wooden Cup]



INDEX


  A

  Abaza, Major S., appointed superintendent of Siberian division;
  forms plan of operations;
  starts northward from Petropavlovsk;
  scares up a bear;
  falls ill at Lesnoi;
  leaves Gizhiga for Okhotsk;
  orders from;
  returns to Gizhiga;
  makes trip to Anadyrsk;
  sails for Okhotsk;
  visits Yakutsk;
  comes to Yamsk;
  returns to Yakutsk;
  starts for St. Petersburg;
  letter from.
  Agaricus muscarius, Korak intoxicant.
  Air-hole, driving into
  Aklán, river
  Aldan, river
  Amur, river
  Anadyr, river;
  work on.
  Anadyr River party;
  finding of;
  experience of;
  orders concerning.
  Anadyrsk, village;
  arrival at;
  priest's house in;
  history and description of;
  climate of;
  ball at;
  character of inhabitants;
  famine at.
  Anadyrsk sickness
  Animals, of Kamchatka
  Anóssof, Russian commissioner
  Arnold, member of Anadyr River party
  Astronomical lectures
  Atlantic cable, failure of first;
  final success of.
  Aurora borealis;
  remarkable display of.
  Aurora of the sea
  Avacha, bay
  Avacha, river
  Avacha, village
  Avacha, volcano


  B

  "Baideras," Korak skin boats
  "Balagáns," fish storehouses
  Ball, at Anadyrsk;
  at Irkutsk.
  "Ballalaikas," Siberian guitars
  "Barabans," Korak drums
  Baths, "black," Kamchatkan steam baths
  Bear hunts
  Bears
  Bering, monument to, in Petropavlovsk
  Berries
  Bickmore, A.S., reference to Korak marriage ceremony
  Birds
  Bivouacs, Kamchatkan
  Blueberries
  Bollman, merchant in Petropavlovsk
  Bordman, W.H.
  Bowsher, member of Sandford's party
  Bragan, Nicolai, guide
  Bragans, Kamchatkan traders
  British Columbia
  British Government, concessions from
  Bulkley, Colonel Charles S.
  Bush, Richard J., becomes member of Siberian party;
  sails for Amur River;
  meeting with, at Gizhiga;
  put in command of Northern District;
  bad news from;
  night meeting with;
  experience in summer of 1866
  Buttercups


  C

  Cable, Atlantic, failure of first;
  final success of
  Camp, a winter
  Camps
  Canoe travel
  Canticle, a driver's
  Christmas, in a storm;
  in Anadyrsk
  Christmas carols
  Chuances
  Chukchis
  Church, Greek, architecture and color;
  services
  Cinquefoil
  _Clara Bell_, bark
  Climate
  Clover
  Cold, Asiatic pole of;
  phenomena of;
  on Myan River;
  lowest temperature observed;
  in Stanavoi mountains
  Collins, P. McD., suggests overland telegraph to Europe
  Congress, of U. S., promises assistance
  Cossack waltz
  Cossacks
  Cows
  Cowslips
  Crimean war, connection of Petropavlovsk with
  Crinoline, Korak comment on
  Crows


  D

  Dall, W. H.
  Dances, Siberian
  Distance, Korak ideas of
  Divide, Kamchatkan, crossing of
  Dix, Major General, worshipped as a saint
  Dodd, James, engaged as member of party in Petropavlovsk;
  goes to Tigil;
  left in Gizhiga
  Dogs, ancestry:
  endurance;
  food;
  sledges;
  loads;
  driving of;
  first experiment in driving;
  howling of, in chorus;
  rest;
  cutting of feet by ice
  "Dole," arctic desert
  Dranka, village
  Dress;
  of Kamchadals;
  of Wandering Koraks;
  of Zamutkis and Tunguses
  Drunkenness, from poisonous toadstool
  Ducks


  E

  Eagles
  English, Shakespearian, in Irkutsk
  Equipment, in San Francisco;
  in Petropavlovsk;
  in Lesnoi;
  in Gizhiga;
  in Anadyrsk;
  in Yakutsk
  Escape, narrowest
  Eskimo-like natives
  Ethnology, of Siberian natives
  Evil spirits, propitiation of
  Exploration, plans for


  F

  Famines
  Fashion-plate, Korak comment on
  Field glass, Chukchi experiments with
  Fish-hawks
  Fish savings banks
  Flowers, in Gizhiga;
  in Petropavlovsk;
  in Kamchatka
  Fluger, German merchant in Petropavlovsk
  Fly agaric, as intoxicant
  Food, of Kamchadals
  Fort St. Michael
  _Frank Leslie's_, fashion-plate from;
  pictures from
  Frazer River
  Fritillaria;
  bulbs eaten
  Fronefield, American in Petropavlovsk
  Frost, George A.
  Fruits, of Kamchatka
  Fur trade, of Kamchatka


  G

  Gale, in North Pacific
  Geese
  Genal, valley
  Genal, village
  Gilyaks
  Gizhiga, village;
  arrival at;
  first days in;
  departure from;
  return to, from Anadyrsk;
  spring in;
  climate of;
  dancing parties in
  _Golden Gate_, bark, wreck of
  Goldsmith, Oliver, reference to Korak intoxicant
  Grouse "teteer"
  Gulls


  H

  _Hallie Jackson_, brig
  Hamilton, captain of whaling bark _Sea Breeze_
  Harchina, village
  Harder, member of Anadyr River party
  _Harper's Weekly_, pictures from
  Heck, member of Sandford's party
  _Herald, N.Y._, correspondent of
  Horseback travel
  Horse-express, Siberian
  Houses, Kamchadal
  Hunter, American in Petropavlovsk


  I

  _Illustrated London News_, as wall paper
  Imperator and operator
  Indian type, of Siberian native
  Intoxicant, Korak
  Irkutsk, city
  "Ispravnik," local governor of Petropavlovsk;
  of Gizhiga;
  of Okhotsk


  J

  Jelly-fish;
  luminous
  "Jerusalem," village

  K

  Kamchadals, character;
  food;
  language;
  music;
  numbers;
  physique;
  religion;
  sable trapping;
  summer settlements;
  transportation
  Kamchatka, animals;
  berries;
  birds;
  climate;
  first impressions;
  first view of coast;
  flowers;
  fruits;
  government;
  mail;
  population;
  scenery;
  topography;
  transportation;
  volcanoes
  Kamchatka River;
  raft, life on;
  valley of
  Kamchatkan Divide, crossing of
  Kamchatkan lily
  Kamchatkan mountains
  Kamenoi
  Kazarefski, village
  "Kazarm," a Russian barrack
  "Kedrovnik," see "Pine"
  Kennicott, leader of Alaskan exploring party
  Kirinsk, town on Lena River
  Kluchei, village
  Kluchefskoi volcano
  Knox, Colonel T. W., correspondent of _N.Y. Herald_
  Kolyma, mosquitoes in
  Korak, village
  Koraks, Settled, appearance;
  experiments with American food;
  in Kamenoi;
  stupidity and ugliness;
  yurts
  Koraks, Wandering, arrival at first encampment;
  appearance;
  character;
  comment on dress of American woman;
  food;
  geographical range;
  intoxicant;
  language;
  marriage ceremony;
  monotonous life;
  old and sick killed;
  pologs;
  reindeer;
  relation to Chukchis;
  relieve starving Anadyrsk people;
  religion;
  social organisation;
  superstitions;
  tents
  Koratskoi, volcano
  Krestofskaya, village
  Kristi, village
  Kuil, village of Settled Koraks
  Kukel, General
  "Kukhlanka" fur overshirt


  L

  Labrador tea
  Lamutkis
  Land, longing for
  Language, "American";
  Russian difficulty of learning;
  grammar of;
  specimen;
  experience with, in Irkutsk
  La Perouse, monument to, in Petropavlovsk
  Lecky, W.H., reference to religion of terror
  Lectures, astronomical
  Leet, American brought by bark _Onward_;
  suicide of
  Lesnoi, village
  Letovies, summer settlements
  Lewis, Richard, telegraph operator brought by bark _Onward_
  Lily, Kamchatkan
  "Lodkas," Siberian skiffs


  M

  Macrae, leader of Anadyr River party
  Macrae and Arnold, go with Chukchis;
  no news from;
  arrive in Anadyrsk;
  experience with Chukchis;
  first winter's work
  Magpies
  Mahood, Captain James A.
  Mahood and Bush
  Maidel, Baron
  Malchanski
  Malqua, village
  Manchus
  "Manyalla," Korak bread
  Marriage ceremonies, Russian
  Korak
  Matches, Koraks see for first time
  Matuga, island
  Maximof, Kamchatkan driver
  Medusae;
  luminous
  Mikina, village
  Milkova, village
  Mirages
  Mongolian type of natives
  "Moroshkas," berries
  Mosquitoes
  Moss steppe
  Mountains, Kamchatkan
  "Muk-a-moor," Korak intoxicant
  Music, American, in Kamchatka;
  of Kamchadals;
  of Greek Church;
  on corvette _Varag_
  Myan, river


  N

  Nalgim, mountain
  "Nart," Siberian dog-sledge
  _New York Herald_, correspondent of
  Nights, in summer
  Nikolaievsk, town
  Nizhni Novgorod
  Northern District, famine in;
  work in
  Norton, forearm of pole-cutting party
  Norton, sound


  O

  "Oerstel," a spiked stick
  Okhotsk Sea;
  coast of;
  temperatures of;
  phosphorescence of
  Okuta, village
  _Olga_, brig, passage engaged on;
  inspection of;
  sails from San Francisco;
  life on;
  sails for Amur River
  _Onward_, bark
  Operator and imperator


  P

  _Palmetto_, bark
  Paren, river
  "Pavoskas," travelling sleighs or sledges
  Penzhina, river
  Penzhina, village
  Penzhinsk Gulf
  Petropavlovsk
  Phillippeus, trip down the Anadyr;
  boat of
  Phosphorescence, of the sea
  Pierce, American in Petropavlovsk
  Pine, trailing or "Kedrovnik"
  Plans, at Gizhiga
  Plover
  "Podorozhnaya," order for post-horses
  "Pologs," skin bedrooms
  Pope, leader of Alaskan party
  Porte Crayon, sketches of, in Kamchatka
  Post-road to Irkutsk
  Povorotnoi, cape
  Price, telegraph operator, brought by _Onward_
  Primroses
  "Pripaika," ice-foot
  Propashchina, River of the Lost
  "Protoks," arms of stream
  Ptarmigan
  Puffin
  "Purgas," blizzards
  Pushchin, village


  R

  Raft, Kamchatkan
  Raft travel
  Raselskoi, volcano
  Ravens
  Reception, Kamchatkan
  Reindeer
  catching;
  driving;
  food;
  guarding;
  habits;
  of Koraks;
  of Tunguses;
  stampede;
  superstition
  about sale of;
  uses
  Reindeer Koraks, see "Koraks,
  Wandering"
  Reindeer-sledge travel
  Religion, of Kamchadals;
  of Wandering Koraks
  Reveries, seasick
  River of the Lost
  Roads
  Robinson, member of Anadyr
  River party
  Roses, wild
  Route of line
  Routes from Kluchei
  Russell and Co.
  Russian-American Telegraph Co.
  organisation of
  failure of
  Russian Government
  Russian language


  S

  Sables, trapping;
  trade in skins
  _Saghalin_, Russian supply steamer
  St. Petersburg
  Sale, a bargain
  Salmon, catching and curing;
  failure of;
  frozen;
  dependence of Siberians upon
  Samanka Mountains
  Samanka River
  Sandford, Lieut., foreman of
  pole-cutting party
  "Sastrugi," permanent drifts
  of snow
  Scammon, Captain, commander
  of Company's fleet
  Scenery of Kamchatka
  Scenery, Siberian, in winter
  Schwartz
  _Sea Breeze_, whaling bark
  Sea life
  "Selánka," Kamchatkan soup
  Send-off, a Siberian
  Shamanism
  "Shchi," cabbage soup
  Sheláshnikoff, Governor-General
  Sherom, village
  Shestakóva, village
  Sidanka, village
  Smith, member of Anadyr River
  party
  Sparrow song
  Spring, in Gizhiga
  Squirrel skins
  Stanavoi Mountains
  Star-flower
  "Starosta," head man of village
  Steeplechase, to Sidanka
  Stock, of Western Union Extension
  Co.
  Storm in Northern Pacific;
  on the Viliga River;
  on the Málkachán steppe;
  in Gizhiginsk Gulf
  Stovepipe, search for;
  finding of
  "Struganini," frozen fish
  Sugar, used instead of money
  Sulkavoi, captain of port of Petropavlovsk
  Sutton, captain of bark _Clara Bell_
  Suveilich, volcano
  Swallows
  Swans
  Sword-bearer


  T

  "Taiyon," Korak chief
  "Tarantas," Siberian travelling carriage
  Tea, used instead of money
  "Tea caravans,"
  Telega, four-wheeled Siberian wagon
  Tents, of Koraks, life in
  "Teteer," Russian grouse
  Thrushes
  Tide, a race with
  Tigil, village
  Time, expedients to pass away
  Tobacco, used instead of money
  Tobézin, captain of steamer, _Saghalin_
  Topolofka, river
  "Topor," Russian axe
  "Torbasses," fur boots
  Trances, in Anadyrsk sickness
  Trailing-pine. See "Pine"
  Transportation, means of, in Kamchatka
  Tundras, mossy plains
  Tunguses;
  encampments
  Turkish type of natives


  U

  Ural Mountains
  Usinova, brook


  V

  Valerian
  _Varag_, Russian corvette
  Verkholénsk, town on Lena River
  Victoria
  Viliga, stormy gorge of;
  mountains
  Villages, Kamchatkan, descriptions
  Villuchinski, volcano
  Vitimsk, town on Lena River
  Volcanoes of Kamchatka
  Vorrebeoffs, Kamchatkan traders,


  W

  Wages, paid Yakut laborers
  Wedding, in Petropavlovsk;
  in Korak tent
  Western Union Extension Co.
  Western Union Telegraph Co.
  Wheeler, sent to Yamsk
  Whymper, book of
  Wild-rose petals, as food
  Women, American, Korak comment on dress of
  Work accomplished up to March 1886
  Writing, Korak and Chukchi, ignorance of


  Y

  Yakuts
  Yakutsk;
  winter temperatures
  Yamsk, village;
  trip to, in March
  "Yassak," a tax on furs
  Yolofka, pass
  Yolofka, river, canoe travel on
  Yolofka, village
  "Yukola," dried fish
  "Yurts," Asiatic habitations;
  of settled Koraks,


  Z

  "Zimovie," winter settlement
  Zinovief, Gregorie, Cossack guide





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