CHAPTER XVI. KAMCHATKAN NIGHTS' ENTERTAINMENTS - CHARACTER OF PEOPLE - SALMON-FISHING - SABLE-TRAPPING - KAMCHADAL LANGUAGE - NATIVE MUSIC - DOG-DRIVING - WINTER DRESS

After our unsuccessful attempt to pass the Samanka Mountains, there was nothing for us to do but wait patiently at Lesnoi until the rivers should freeze over, and snow fall to a depth which would enable us to continue our journey to Gizhiga on dog-sledges. It was a long, wearisome delay, and I felt for the first time, in its full force, the sensation of exile from home, country, and civilisation. The Major continued very ill, and would show the anxiety which he had felt about the success of our expedition by talking deliriously for hours of crossing the mountains, starting for Gizhiga in the whale-boat, and giving incoherent orders to Viushin, Dodd, and myself, about horses, dog-sledges, canoes, and provisions. The idea of getting to Gizhiga, before the beginning of winter, filled his mind, to the exclusion of everything else. His sickness made the time previous to Dodd's return seem very long and lonesome, as I had absolutely nothing to do except to sit in a little log room, with opaque fish-bladder windows, and pore over Shakespeare and my Bible, until I almost learned them by heart. In pleasant weather I would sling my rifle across my back and spend whole days in roaming over the mountains in pursuit of reindeer and foxes; but I rarely met with much success. One deer and a few arctic ptarmigan were my only trophies. At night I would sit on the transverse section of a log in our little kitchen, light a rude Kamchadal lamp, made with a fragment of moss and a tin cup full of seal oil, and listen for hours to the songs and guitar-playing of the Kamchadals, and to the wild stories of perilous mountain adventure which they delighted to relate. I learned during these Kamchatkan Nights' Entertainments many interesting particulars of Kamchadal life, customs, and peculiarities of which I had before known nothing; and, as I shall have no occasion hereafter to speak of this curious little-known people, I may as well give here what account I can of their language, music, amusements, superstitions, and mode of life.

The people themselves I have already described as a quiet, inoffensive, hospitable tribe of semi-barbarians, remarkable only for honesty, general amiability, and comical reverence for legally constituted authority. Such an idea as rebellion or resistance to oppression is wholly foreign to the Kamchadal character now, whatever it may have been in previous ages of independence. They will suffer and endure any amount of abuse and ill-treatment, without any apparent desire for revenge, and with the greatest good-nature and elasticity of spirit. They are as faithful and forgiving as a dog. If you treat them well, your slightest wish will be their law; and they will do their best in their rude way to show their appreciation of kindness, by anticipating and meeting even your unexpressed wants. During our stay at Lesnoi the Major chanced one day to inquire for some milk. The starosta did not tell him that there was not a cow in the village, but said that he would try to get some. A man was instantly despatched on horseback to the neighbouring settlement of Kinkil, and before night he returned with a champagne-bottle under his arm, and the Major had milk that evening in his tea. From this time until we started for Gizhiga - more than a month - a man rode twenty miles every day to bring us a bottle of fresh milk. This seemed to be done out of pure kindness of heart, without any desire or expectation of future reward; and it is a fair example of the manner in which we were generally treated by all the Kamchadals in the peninsula.