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Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan

Part 2 out of 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: Travelling Bag made of Reindeer skin]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: Cap of brown and white fur]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: War and Hunting Knives.]

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: Wooden Mortar used for grinding Tobacco]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where did you learn?" Dodd asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: Horn Spoon]

[Illustration: Drinking Vessel made of horn]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: Drill]



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

We had hitherto experienced little difficulty in making our way
through the peninsula, as we had been especially favoured by weather,
and there had been few natural obstacles to stop or delay our
progress. Now, however, we were about to enter a wilderness which was
entirely uninhabited, and little known even to our Kamchadal guides.
North of Lesnoi the great central range of the Kamchatka mountains
broke off abruptly into the Okhotsk Sea, in a long line of tremendous
precipices, and interposed a great rugged wall between us and the
steppes of the Wandering Koraks. This mountain range was very
difficult to pass with horses, even in midsummer, and was of course
infinitely worse now, when the mountain streams were swollen by the
fall rains into foaming torrents, and the storms which herald the
approach of winter might be at any moment expected. The Kamchadals at
Lesnoi declared positively that it was of no use to attempt to cross
this range until the rivers should freeze over and snow enough fall to
permit the use of dog-sledges, and that they were not willing to risk
fifteen or twenty horses, to say nothing of their own lives, in any
such adventure. The Major told them, in language more expressive than
polite, that he didn't believe a word of any such yarn; that the
mountains had to be crossed, and that go they must and should. They
had evidently never had to deal before with any such determined,
self-willed individual as the Major proved to be, and, after some
consultation among themselves, they agreed to make the attempt with
eight unloaded horses, leaving all our baggage and heavy equipage
at Lesnoi. This the Major at first would not listen to; but after
thinking the situation over he decided to divide our small force

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