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Tent Life in Siberia by George Kennan

Part 4 out of 7

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

DRILL Photograph in The American Museum of Natural History]

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

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

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

From a painting by George A. Frost]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: Korak Adzes]



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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: Ladle made of Caribou antler]

[Illustration: Woman's knife for cutting meat]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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