CHAPTER IV. THINGS RUSSIAN IN KAMCHATKA - A VERDANT AND FLOWERY LAND - THE VILLAGE OF TWO SAINTS.
It has been well observed by Irving, that to one about to visit foreign countries a long sea voyage is an excellent preparative. To quote his words, "The temporary absence of worldly scenes and employments produces a state of mind peculiarly fitted to receive new and vivid impressions." And he might have added with equal truth - favourable impressions. The tiresome monotony of sea life predisposes the traveller to regard favourably anything that will quicken his stagnating faculties and perceptions and furnish new matter for thought; and the most commonplace scenery and circumstances afford him gratification and delight. For this reason one is apt, upon arriving after a long voyage in a strange country, to form a more favourable opinion of its people and scenery than his subsequent experience will sustain. But it seems to me particularly fortunate that our first impressions of a new country, which are most clear and vivid and therefore most lasting, are also most pleasant, so that in future years a retrospective glance over our past wanderings will show the most cheerful pictures drawn in the brightest and most enduring colours. I am sure that the recollection of my first view of the mountains of Kamchatka, the delight with which my eye drank in their bright aerial tints, and the romance with which my ardent fancy invested them, will long outlive the memory of the hardships I have endured among them, the snow-storms that have pelted me on their summits, and the rains that have drenched me in their valleys. Fanciful perhaps, but I believe true.
The longing for land which one feels after having been five or six weeks at sea is sometimes so strong as to be almost a passion. I verily believe that if the first land we saw had been one of those immense barren moss steppes which I afterward came to hold in such detestation, I should have regarded it as nothing less than the original site of the Garden of Eden. Not all the charms which nature has lavished upon the Vale of Tempe could have given me more pleasure than did the little green valley in which nestled the red-roofed and bark-covered log houses of Petropavlovsk.
The arrival of a ship in that remote and unfrequented part of the world is an event of no little importance; and the rattling of our chain cable through the hawse-holes created a very perceptible sensation in the quiet village. Little children ran bareheaded out of doors, looked at us for a moment, and then ran hastily back to call the rest of the household; dark-haired natives and Russian peasants, in blue shirts and leather trousers, gathered in a group at the landing; and seventy-five or a hundred half-wild dogs broke out suddenly into a terrific chorus of howls in honour of our arrival.
It was already late in the afternoon, but we could not restrain our impatience to step once more upon dry land; and as soon as the captain's boat could be lowered, Bush, Mahood, and I went ashore to look at the town.
Petropavlovsk is laid out in a style that is very irregular, without being at all picturesque. The idea of a street never seems to have suggested itself either to the original settlers or to their descendants; and the paths, such as they are, wander around aimlessly among the scattered houses, like erratic sheepwalks. It is impossible to go for a hundred yards in a straight line, in any direction, without either bringing up against the side of a house or trespassing upon somebody's backyard; and in the night one falls over a slumbering cow, upon a fair average, once every fifty feet. In other respects it is rather a pretty village, surrounded as it is by high green hills, and affording a fine view of the beautiful snowy peak of Avacha, which rises to a height of 11,000 feet directly behind the town.
Mr. Fluger, a German merchant of Petropavlovsk who had boarded us in a small boat outside the harbour, now constituted himself our guide; and after a short walk around the village, invited us to his house, where we sat in a cloud of fragrant cigar-smoke, talking over American war news, and the latest on dit of Kamchatkan society, until it finally began to grow dark. I noticed, among other books lying upon Mr. Fluger's table, Life Thoughts, by Beecher, and The Schoenberg-Cotta Family, and wondered that the latter had already found its way to the distant shores of Kamchatka.
As new-comers, it was our first duty to pay our respects to the Russian authorities; and, accompanied by Mr. Fluger and Mr. Bollman, we called upon Captain Sutkovoi (soot-ko-voi'), the resident "Captain of the port." His house, with its bright-red tin roof, was almost hidden by a large grove of thrifty oaks, through which tumbled, in a succession of little cascades, a clear, cold mountain stream. We entered the gate, walked up a broad travelled path under the shade of the interlocking branches, and, without knocking, entered the house. Captain Sutkovoi welcomed us cordially, and notwithstanding our inability to speak any language but our own, soon made us feel quite at home. Conversation however languished, as every remark had to be translated through two languages before it could be understood by the person to whom it was addressed; and brilliant as it might have been in the first place, it lost its freshness in being passed around through Russian, German, and English to us.