CHAPTER XXVII. NEWS FROM THE ANADYR PARTY - PLAN FOR ITS RELIEF - THE STORY OF A STOVE-PIPE - START FOR THE SEACOAST
Immediately after our arrival at Anadyrsk we I had made inquiries as to the party of Americans who were said to be living somewhere near the mouth of the Anadyr River; but we were not able to get any information in addition to that we already possessed. Wandering Chukchis had brought the news to the settlement that a small band of white men had been landed on the coast south of Bering Strait late in the fall, from a "fire-ship" or steamer; that they had dug a sort of cellar in the ground, covered it over with bushes and boards, and gone into winter quarters. Who they were, what they had come for, and how long they intended to stay, were questions which now agitated the whole Chukchi nation, but which no one could answer. Their little subterranean hut had been entirely buried, the natives said, by the drifting snows of winter, and nothing but a curious iron tube out of which came smoke and sparks showed where the white men lived. This curious iron tube which so puzzled the Chukchis we at once supposed to be a stove-pipe, and it furnished the strongest possible confirmation of the truth of the story. No Siberian native could ever have invented the idea of a stove-pipe - somebody must have seen one; and this fact alone convinced us beyond a doubt that there were Americans living somewhere on the coast of Bering Sea - probably an exploring party landed by Colonel Bulkley to cooperate with us.
The instructions which the Major gave me when we left Gizhiga did not provide for any such contingency as the landing of this party near Bering Strait, because at that time we had abandoned all hope of such cooperation and expected to explore the country by our own unaided exertions. The engineer-in-chief had promised faithfully, when we sailed from San Francisco, that, if he should leave a party of men at the mouth of the Anadyr River at all, he would leave them there early in the season with a large whale-boat, so that they could ascend the river to a settlement before the opening of winter. When we met the Anadyrsk people, therefore, at Gizhiga, late in November, and learned that nothing had been heard of any such party, we of course concluded that for some reason the plan which Colonel Bulkley proposed had been given up. No one dreamed that he would leave a mere handful of men in the desolate region south of Bering Strait at the beginning of an arctic winter, without any means whatever of transportation, without any shelter, surrounded by fierce tribes of lawless natives, and distant more than two hundred miles from the nearest civilised human being. What was such an unfortunate party to do? They could only live there in inactivity until they starved, were murdered, or were brought away by an expedition sent to their rescue from the interior. Such was the situation when Dodd and I arrived at Anadyrsk. Our orders were to leave the Anadyr River unexplored until another season; but we knew that as soon as the Major should receive the letters which had passed through our hands at Shestakova he would learn that a party had been landed south of Bering Strait, and would send us orders by special courier to go in search of it and bring it to Anadyrsk, where it would be of some use. We therefore determined to anticipate these orders and hunt up that American stove-pipe upon our own responsibility.
Our situation, however, was a very peculiar one. We had no means of finding out where we were ourselves, or where the American party was. We had not been furnished with instruments for making astronomical observations, could not determine with any kind of accuracy our latitude and longitude, and did not know whether we were two hundred miles from the Pacific coast or five hundred. According to the report of Lieutenant Phillippeus, who had partially explored the Anadyr River, it was about a thousand versts from the settlement to Anadyr Bay, while according to the dead reckoning which we had kept from Gizhiga it could not be over four hundred. The real distance was to us a question of vital importance, because we should be obliged to carry dog-food for the whole trip, and if it was anything like a thousand versts we should in all probability lose our dogs by starvation before we could possibly get back. Besides this, when we finally reached Anadyr Bay, if we ever did, we should have no means of finding out where the Americans were; and unless we happened to meet a band of Chukchis who had seen them, we might wander over those desolate plains for a month without coming across the stove-pipe, which was the only external sign of their subterranean habitation. It would be far worse than the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack.