CHAPTER XXXIII. ARRIVAL OF BARK "PALMETTO" - DRIVEN ASHORE BY GALE - DISCHARGING CARGO UNDER DIFFICULTIES - NEGRO CREW MUTINIES - LONELY TRIP TO ANADYRSK - STUPID KORAKS - EXPLOSIVE PROVISIONS
Our progress toward Anadyrsk after we left the coast of the Okhotsk Sea was very slow, on account both of the shortness of the days, and the depth and softness of the freshly fallen snow. Frequently, for ten or fifteen miles at a stretch, we were compelled to break a road on snow-shoes for our heavily loaded sledges, and even then our tired dogs could hardly struggle through the soft powdery drifts. The weather, too, was so intensely cold that my mercurial thermometer, which indicated only - 23 deg., was almost useless. For several days the mercury never rose out of the bulb, and I could only estimate the temperature by the rapidity with which my supper froze after being taken from the fire. More than once soup turned from a liquid to a solid in my hands, and green corn froze to my tin plate before I could finish eating it.
On the fourteenth day after leaving Gizhiga we reached the native settlement of Penzhina, two hundred versts from Anadyrsk. Ours was the first arrival at that place since the previous May, and the whole population of the village - men, women, children, and dogs - turned out en masse to meet us, with the most joyful demonstrations. Six months had elapsed since they last saw a strange face or heard from the outside world, and they proceeded to fire a salute from half a dozen rusty old muskets, as a faint expression of their delight.
I had confidently expected when I left Gizhiga that I should meet somewhere on the road a courier with news and despatches from Bush; and I was very much disappointed and a little alarmed when I reached Penzhina to find that no one had arrived at that place from Anadyrsk, and that nothing had been heard from our party since the previous spring. I felt a presentiment that something was wrong, because Bush had been expressly directed to send a courier to Gizhiga by the first winter road, and it was now late in November.
On the following day my worst anticipations were realised. Late in the evening, as I was sitting in the house of one of the Russian peasants drinking tea, the cry was raised that "Anadyrski yaydoot" - "Some one is coming from Anadyrsk"; and running hastily out of the house I met the long-haired Anadyrsk priest just as he stepped from his sledge in front of the door. My first question of course was, "Where's Bush?" But my heart sank as the priest replied: "Bokh yevo znaiet" - "God only knows." "But where did you see him last? - Where did he spend the summer?" I inquired. "I saw him last at the mouth of the Anadyr River, in July," said the priest, "and since that time nothing has been heard from him." A few more questions brought out the whole dismal story. Bush, Macrae, Harder, and Smith had gone down the Anadyr River in June with a large raft of station-houses, intended for erection along its banks. After putting up these houses at necessary points, they had gone on in canoes to Anadyr Bay, to await the arrival of the Company's vessels from San Francisco. Here the priest had joined them and had lived with them several weeks; but late in July their scanty supply of provisions had given out, the expected ships had not come, and the priest returned to the settlement, leaving the unfortunate Americans in a half-starving condition at the mouth of the river. Since that time nothing had been heard from them, and, as the priest mournfully said, "God only knew" where they were and what had happened to them. This was bad news, but it was not the worst. In consequence of the entire failure of the salmon fisheries of the Anadyr River that season, a terrible famine had broken out at Anadyrsk, part of the inhabitants and nearly all the dogs had died of starvation, and the village was almost deserted. Everybody who had dogs enough to draw a sledge had gone in search of the Wandering Chukchis, with whom they could live until another summer; and the few people who were left in the settlement were eating their boots and scraps of reindeerskin to keep themselves alive. Early in October a party of natives had gone in search of Bush and his comrades on dog-sledges, but more than a month had now elapsed since their departure and they had not yet returned. In all probability they had starved to death on the great desolate plains of the lower Anadyr, as they had been compelled to start with only ten days' provisions, and it was doubtful whether they would meet Wandering Chukchis who could supply them with more.