CHAPTER XXXII. DULL LIFE - ARCTIC MOSQUITOES - WAITING FOR SUPPLIES - SHIPS SIGNALLED - BARK "CLARA BELL" - RUSSIAN CORVETTE "VARAG"
After the departure of the Jackson, we began to look forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of our own vessels and the termination of our long imprisonment at Gizhiga. Eight months of nomadic camp life had given us a taste for adventure and excitement which nothing but constant travel could gratify, and as soon as the first novelty of idleness wore off we began to tire of our compulsory inactivity, and became impatient for work. We had exhausted all the amusements of Gizhiga, read all the newspapers which had been brought by the Jackson, discussed their contents to the minutest details, explored every foot of ground in the vicinity of the settlement, and tried everything which our ingenuity could devise to pass away the time, but all to no avail. The days seemed interminable, the long-expected ships did not come, and the mosquitoes and gnats made our life a burden. About the tenth of July, the mosquito - that curse of the northern summer - rises out of the damp moss of the lower plains, and winds his shrill horn to apprise all animated nature of his triumphant resurrection and his willingness to furnish musical entertainment to man and beast upon extremely reasonable terms. In three or four days, if the weather be still and warm, the whole atmosphere will be literally filled with clouds of mosquitoes and from that time until the 10th of August they persecute every living thing with a bloodthirsty eagerness which knows no rest and feels no pity. Escape is impossible and defence useless; they follow their unhappy victims everywhere, and their untiring perseverance overcomes every obstacle which human ingenuity can throw in their way. Smoke of any ordinary density they treat with contemptuous indifference; mosquito-bars they either evade or carry by assault, and only by burying himself alive can man hope to finally escape their relentless persecution. In vain we wore gauze veils over our heads and concealed ourselves under calico pologs. The multitude of our tiny assailants was so great that some of them sooner or later were sure to find an unguarded opening, and just when we thought ourselves most secure we were suddenly surprised and driven out of our shelter by a fresh and unexpected attack. Mosquitoes, I know, do not enter into the popular conception of Siberia; but never in any tropical country have I seen them in such immense numbers as in north-eastern Siberia during the month of July. They make the great moss tundras in some places utterly uninhabitable, and force even the reindeer to seek the shelter and the cooler atmosphere of the mountains. In the Russian settlements they torment dogs and cattle until the latter run furiously about in a perfect frenzy of pain, and fight desperately for a place to stand in the smoke of a fire. As far north as the settlement of Kolyma, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, the natives are compelled, in still, warm weather, to surround their houses with a circle of smudges, to protect themselves and their domestic animals from the ceaseless persecution of mosquitoes.
Early in July all the inhabitants of Gizhiga, with the exception of the governor and a few Russian merchants, closed their winter-houses, and removed to their "letovies" or summer fishing-stations along the banks of the river, to await the arrival of the salmon. Finding the deserted village rather dull, Dodd, Robinson, Arnold, and I removed to the mouth of the river, and took up our quarters once more in the empty government storehouse which we had occupied during the stay of the Hallie Jackson.
I shall not dwell long upon the monotonous discomfort of the life which we led for the next month. It may all be comprised in four words - inactivity, disappointment, mosquitoes, and misery. Looking for vessels was our only duty, fighting mosquitoes our only diversion; and as the former never appeared and the latter never disappeared, both occupations were equally unprofitable and unsatisfactory. Twenty times a day we put on our gauze veils, tied our clothing down at the wrists and ankles, and climbed laboriously to the summit of a high bluff to look for vessels; but twenty times a day we returned disappointed to our bare, cheerless rooms, and vented our indignation indiscriminately upon the country, the Company, the ships, and the mosquitoes. We could not help feeling as if we had dropped out of the great current of human affairs, as if our places in the distant busy world had been filled and our very existence forgotten.
The chief engineer of our enterprise had promised faithfully that ships with men, material, and supplies for the immediate prosecution of the work, should be at Gizhiga and at the mouth of the Anadyr River as early in the season as ice would permit them to enter; but it was now August, and they had not yet made their appearance. Whether they had been lost, or whether the whole enterprise had been abandoned, we could only conjecture; but as week after week passed away without bringing any news, we gradually lost all hope and began to discuss the advisability of sending some one to the Siberian capital to inform the Company by telegraph of our situation.
It is but justice to Major Abaza to say that during all these long weary months of waiting he never entirely gave up to discouragement, or allowed himself to doubt the perseverance of the Company in the work which it had undertaken. The ships might have been belated or have met with some misfortune, but he did not think it possible that the work had been abandoned, and he continued throughout the summer to make such preparations as he could for another winter's campaign.