By GEORGE KENNAN
Tent Life in Siberia
A New Account of an Old Undertaking
Adventures among the Koraks and Other Tribes In Kamchatka and Northern Asia
Author of "Siberia and the Exile System," "Campaigning in Cuba," "The Tragedy of Pelee," "Folk Tales of Napoleon"
With 32 Illustrations and Maps
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.
February 16, 1910.
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 deg. and 60 deg. 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.
THE OVERLAND TELEGRAPH LINE TO RUSSIA—SAILING OF THE FIRST SIBERIAN EXPLORING PARTY FROM SAN FRANCISCO
CROSSING THE NORTH PACIFIC—SEVEN WEEKS IN A RUSSIAN BRIG
THE PICTURESQUE COAST OF KAMCHATKA—ARRIVAL IN PETROPAVLOVSK
THINGS RUSSIAN IN KAMCHATKA—A VERDANT AND FLOWERY LAND—THE VILLAGE OF TWO SAINTS
FIRST ATTEMPT TO LEARN RUSSIAN—PLAN OF EXPLORATION—DIVISION OF PARTY
A COSSACK WEDDING—THE PENINSULA OF KAMCHATKA
STARTING NORTHWARD—KAMCHATKAN SCENERY, VILLAGES, AND PEOPLE
BRIDLE PATHS OF SOUTHERN KAMCHATKA—HOUSES AND FOOD OF THE PEOPLE—REINDEER TONGUES AND WILD-ROSE PETALS—A KAMCHATKAN DRIVER'S CANTICLE
THE BEAUTIFUL VALLEY OF GENAL—WALLS OF LITERATURE—SCARING UP A BEAR—END OF HORSEBACK RIDE
THE KAMCHATKA RIVER—LIFE ON A CANOE RAFT—RECEPTION AT MILKOVA—MISTAKEN FOR THE TSAR
ARRIVAL AT KLUCHEI—THE KLUCHEFSKOI VOLCANO—A QUESTION OF ROUTE—A RUSSIAN "BLACK BATH"
CANOE TRAVEL ON THE YOLOFKA—VOLCANIC CONVERSATION—"O SUSANNA!"—TALKING "AMERICAN"—A DIFFICULT ASCENT
A DISMAL NIGHT—CROSSING THE KAMCHATKAN DIVIDE—ANOTHER BEAR HUNT—BREAKNECK RIDING—TIGIL—STEPPES OF NORTHERN KAMCHATKA
OKHOTSK SEACOAST—LESNOI—THE "DEVIL'S PASS"—LOST IN SNOW-STORM—SAVED BY BRASS BOX—WILD SCENE
CUT OFF BY STORM—STARVATION THREATENED—RACE WITH A RISING TIDE—TWO DAYS WITH FOOD—RETURN TO LESNOI
KAMCHATKAN NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENTS—CHARACTER OF PEOPLE— SALMON-FISHING—SABLE-TRAPPING—KAMCHADAL LANGUAGE—NATIVE MUSIC—DOG-DRIVING—WINTER DRESS
A FRESH START—CROSSING THE SAMANKA MOUNS ON A KORAK ENCAMPMENT— NOMADS AND THEIR TENTS—DOOR-HOLES AND DOGS—POLOGS—KORAK BREAD
WHY THE KORAKS WANDER—THEIR INDEPENDENCE—CHEERLESS LIFE—USES OF THE REINDEER—KORAK IDEAS OF DISTANCE—"MONARCH OF THE BRASS-HANDLED SWORD."
THE SNOW-DRIFT COMPASS—MARRIAGE BY CAPTURE—AN INTOXICATING FUNGUS—MONOTONY OF KORAK LIFE
THE KORAK TONGUE—RELIGION OF TERROR—INCANTATIONS OF SHAMANS—KILLING OF OLD AND SICK—REINDEER SUPERSTITION—KORAK CHARACTER
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
FIRST ATTEMPT AT DOG-DRIVING—UNPREMEDITATED PROFANITY—A RUNAWAY—ARRIVAL AT GIZHIGA—HOSPITALITY OF THE ISPRAVNIK—PLANS FOR THE WINTER
DOG-SLEDGE TRAVEL—ARCTIC MIRAGES—CAMP AT NIGHT A HOWLING CHORUS—NORTHERN LIGHTS
DISMAL SHELTER—ARRIVAL OF A COSSACK COURIER—AMERICANS ON THE ANADYR—ARCTIC FIREWOOD—A SIBERIAN BLIZZARD—LOST ON THE STEPPE
PENZHINA—POSTS FOR ELEVATED ROAD—FIFTY-THREE BELOW ZERO—TALKED OUT—ASTRONOMICAL LECTURES—EATING PLANETS—THE HOUSE OF A PRIEST
ANADYRSK—AN ARCTIC OUTPOST—SEVERE CLIMATE—CHRISTMAS SERVICES AND CAROLS—A SIBERIAN BALL—MUSIC AND REFRESHMENTS—EXCITED DANCING—HOLIDAY AMUSEMENTS
NEWS FROM THE ANADYR PARTY—PLAN FOR ITS RELIEF—THE STORY OF A STOVE-PIPE—START FOR THE SEACOAST
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
CLASSIFICATION OF NATIVES—INDIAN TYPE, MONGOLIAN TYPE, AND TURKISH TYPE—EASTERN VIEW OF WESTERN ARTS AND FASHIONS—AN AMERICAN SAINT
AN ARCTIC AURORA—ORDERS FROM THE MAJOR—ADVENTURES OF MACRAE AND ARNOLD WITH THE CHUKCHIS—RETURN TO GIZHIGA—REVIEW OF WINTER'S WORK
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
DULL LIFE—ARCTIC MOSQUITOES—WAITING FOR SUPPLIES—SHIPS SIGNALLED—BARK "CLARA BELL"—RUSSIAN CORVETTE "VARAG"
ARRIVAL OF BARK "PALMETTO"—DRIVEN ASHORE BY GALE—DISCHARGING CARGO UNDER DIFFICULTIES—NEGRO CREW MUTINIES—LONELY TRIP TO ANADYRSK—STUPID KORAKS—EXPLOSIVE PROVISIONS
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
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
OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION OF THE BAD NEWS—THE ENTERPRISE ABANDONED—A VOYAGE TO OKHOTSK—THE AURORA OF THE SEA
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"
START FOR ST. PETERSBURG—ROUTE TO YAKUTSK—A TUNGUSE ENCAMPMENT— CROSSING THE STANAVOI MOUNTAINS—SEVERE COLD—FIRE-LIGHTED SMOKE PILLARS—ARRIVAL IN YAKUTSK
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
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
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.
TENT LIFE IN SIBERIA
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 "paganni" (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.
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 aerial 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.
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 Schoenberg-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 chinovniki" (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!"
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 Villuchinski, 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.
A COSSACK WEDDING—THE PENINSULA OP KAMCHATKA
Our time in Petropavlovsk, after the departure of the Olga, was almost wholly occupied in making preparations for our northern journey through the Kamchatkan peninsula. On Tuesday, however, Dodd told me that there was to be a wedding at the church, and invited me to go over and witness the ceremony. It took place in the body of the church, immediately after some sort of morning service, which had nearly closed when we entered. I had no difficulty in singling out the happy individuals whose fortunes were to be united in the holy bonds of matrimony. They betrayed their own secret by their assumed indifference and unconsciousness.
The unlucky (lucky?) man was a young, round-headed Cossack about twenty years of age, dressed in a dark frock-coat trimmed with scarlet and gathered like a lady's dress above the waist, which, with a reckless disregard for his anatomy, was assumed to be six inches below his armpits. In honour of the extraordinary occasion he had donned a great white standing collar which projected above his ears, as the mate of the Olga would say, "like fore to'gallant studd'n' s'ls." Owing to a deplorable lack of understanding between his cotton trousers and his shoes they failed to meet by about six inches, and no provision had been made for the deficiency. The bride was comparatively an old woman—at least twenty years the young man's senior, and a widow. I thought with a sigh of the elder Mr. Weller's parting injunction to his son, "Bevare o' the vidders," and wondered what the old gentleman would say could he see this unconscious "wictim" walking up to the altar "and thinkin' in his 'art that it was all wery capital." The bride wore a dress of that peculiar sort of calico known as "furniture prints," without trimming or ornaments of any kind. Whether it was cut "bias" or with "gores," I'm sorry to say I do not know, dress-making being as much of an occult science to me as divination. Her hair was tightly bound up in a scarlet silk handkerchief, fastened in front with a little gilt button. As soon as the church service was concluded the altar was removed to the middle of the room, and the priest, donning a black silk gown which contrasted strangely with his heavy cowhide boots, summoned the couple before him.
After giving to each three lighted candles tied together with blue ribbon, he began to read in a loud sonorous voice what I supposed to be the marriage service, paying no attention whatever to stops, but catching his breath audibly in the midst of a sentence and hurrying on again with tenfold rapidity. The candidates for matrimony were silent, but the deacon, who was looking abstractedly out of a window on the opposite side of the church, interrupted him occasionally with doleful chanted responses.
At the conclusion of the reading they all crossed themselves devoutly half a dozen times in succession, and after asking them the decisive question the priest gave them each a silver ring. Then came more reading, at the end of which he administered to them a teaspoonful of wine out of a cup. Reading and chanting were again resumed and continued for a long time, the bridegroom and bride crossing and prostrating themselves continually, and the deacon closing up his responses by repeating with the most astounding rapidity, fifteen times in five seconds, the words "Gaspodi pomilui" (goss'-po-dee-po-mee'-loo-ee), "God have mercy upon us." He then brought in two large gilt crowns ornamented with medallions, and, blowing off the dust which had accumulated upon them since the last wedding, he placed them upon the heads of the bridegroom and bride.
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 deg.. 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 "yassak" 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.