CHAPTER VIII. BRIDLE PATHS OP SOUTHERN KAMCHATKA - HOUSES AND FOOD OF THE PEOPLE - REINDEER TONGUES AND WILD-ROSE PETALS - A KAMCHATKAN DRIVER'S CANTICLE
At Okuta we found our horses and men awaiting our arrival; and after eating a hasty lunch of bread, milk, and blueberries in a little native house, we clambered awkwardly into our saddles, and filed away in a long irregular line through the woods, Dodd and I taking the advance, singing Bonnie Dundee.
We kept continually near the group of mountains which had presented so beautiful an appearance in the morning; but, owing to the forest of birch and mountain ash which clothed the foot-hills, we caught only occasional glimpses between the tree-tops of their white snowy summits.
Just before sunset, we rode into another little native village, whose ingeniously constructed name defied all my inexperienced attempts to pronounce it or write it down. Dodd was good-natured enough to repeat it to me five or six times; but as it sounded worse and more unintelligible every time, I finally called it Jerusalem, and let it go at that. For the sake of geographical accuracy I have so marked it down on my map; but let no future commentator point to it triumphantly as a proof that the lost tribes of Israel emigrated to Kamchatka; I don't believe that they did, and I know that this unfortunate settlement, before I took pity on it and called it Jerusalem, was distinguished by a name so utterly barbarous that neither the Hebrew alphabet nor any other known to ancient literature could have begun to do it justice.
Tired by the unusual exercise of horseback riding, I entered Jerusalem at a walk, and throwing my bridle to a Kamchadal in blue nankeen shirt and buckskin trousers, who saluted me with a reverential bow, I wearily dismounted and entered the house which Viushin indicated as the one we were to occupy.
The best room, which had been prepared for our reception, was a low bare apartment about twelve feet square, whose walls, ceiling, and floor of unpainted birch planks were scoured to a smooth snowy purity which would have been creditable even to the neat housewives of the Dutch paradise of Broek. An immense clay oven, neatly painted red, occupied one side of the room; a bench, three or four rude chairs, and a table, were arranged with severe propriety against the other. Two windows of glass, shaded by flowery calico curtains, admitted the warm sunshine; a few coarse American lithographs hung here and there against the wall; and the air of perfect neatness, which prevailed everywhere, made us suddenly and painfully conscious of our own muddy boots and rough attire. No tools except axes and knives had been used in the construction of the house or of its furniture; but the unplaned, unpainted boards had been diligently scrubbed with water and sand to a delicate creamy whiteness, which made amends for all rudeness of workmanship. There was not a plank in the floor from which the most fastidious need have hesitated to eat. The most noticeable peculiarity of this, as of all the other Kamchadal houses which we saw in southern Kamchatka, was the lowness of its doors. They seemed to have been designed for a race of beings whose only means of locomotion were hands and knees, and to enter them without making use of those means required a flexibility of spinal vertebrae only to be acquired by long and persevering practice. Viushin and Dodd, who had travelled in Kamchatka before, experienced no difficulty in accommodating themselves to this peculiarity of native architecture; but the Major and I, during the first two weeks of our journey, bore upon the fore parts of our heads, bumps whose extraordinary size and irregularity of development would have puzzled even Spurzheim and Gall. If the abnormal enlargement of the bumps had only been accompanied by a corresponding enlargement of the respective faculties, there would have been some compensation for this disfiguration of our heads; but unfortunately "perception" might be suddenly developed by the lintel of a door until it looked like a goose-egg, without enabling us to perceive the very next beam which came in our way until after we had struck our heads against it.