CHAPTER XXVIII. A SLEDGE JOURNEY EASTWARD - REACHING TIDE-WATER - A NIGHT SEARCH FOR A STOVE-PIPE - FINDING COMRADES - A VOICE FROM A STOVE - STORY OF THE ANADYR PARTY

I will not detain the reader long with the first part of our journey from Anadyrsk to the Pacific Coast, as it did not differ much from our previous Siberian experience. Riding all day over the ice of the river, or across barren steppes, and camping out at night on the snow, in all kinds of weather, made up our life; and its dreary monotony was relieved only by anticipations of a joyful meeting with our exiled friends and the exciting consciousness that we were penetrating a country never before visited by civilised man. Day by day the fringe of alder bushes along the river bank grew lower and more scanty, and the great steppes that bordered the river became whiter and more barren as the river widened toward the sea. Finally we left behind us the last vestige of vegetation, and began the tenth day of our journey along a river which had increased to a mile in width, and amidst plains perfectly destitute of all life, which stretched away in one unbroken white expanse until they blended with the distant sky. It was not without uneasiness that I thought of the possibility of being overtaken by a ten days' storm in such a region as this. We had made, as nearly as we could estimate, since leaving Anadyrsk, about two hundred versts; but whether we were anywhere near the seacoast or not we had no means of knowing. The weather for nearly a week had been generally clear, and not very cold; but on the night of February 1st the thermometer sank to - 35 deg., and we could find only just enough small green bushes to boil our teakettle. We dug everywhere in the snow in search of wood, but found nothing except moss, and a few small cranberry bushes which would not burn. Tired with the long day's travel, and the fruitless diggings for wood, Dodd and I returned to camp, and threw ourselves down upon our bearskins to drink tea. Hardly had Dodd put his cup to his lips when I noticed that a curious, puzzled expression came over his face, as if he found something singular and unusual in the taste of the tea. I was just about to ask him what was the matter, when he cried in a joyful and surprised voice, "Tide-water! The tea is salt!" Thinking that perhaps a little salt might have been dropped accidentally into the tea, I sent the men down to the river for some fresh ice, which we carefully melted. It was unquestionably salt. We had reached the tide-water of the Pacific, and the ocean itself could not be far distant. One more day must certainly bring us to the house of the American party, or to the mouth of the river. From all appearances we should find no more wood; and anxious to make the most of the clear weather, we slept only about six hours, and started on at midnight by the light of a brilliant moon.