One of the first things which the traveller notices in any foreign country is the language, and it is especially noticeable in Kamchatka, Siberia, or any part of the great Russian Empire. What the ancestors of the Russians did at the Tower of Babel to have been afflicted with such a complicated, contorted, mixed up, utterly incomprehensible language, I can hardly conjecture. I have thought sometimes that they must have built their side of the Tower higher than any of the other tribes, and have been punished for their sinful industry with this jargon of unintelligible sounds, which no man could possibly hope to understand before he became so old and infirm that he could never work on another tower. However they came by it, it is certainly a thorn in the flesh to all travellers in the Russian Empire. Some weeks before we reached Kamchatka I determined to learn, if possible, a few common expressions, which would be most useful in our first intercourse with the natives, and among them the simple declarative sentence, "I want something to eat." I thought that this would probably be the first remark that I should have to make to any of the inhabitants, and I determined to learn it so thoroughly that I should never be in danger of starvation from ignorance. I accordingly asked the Major one day what the equivalent expression was in Russian. He coolly replied that whenever I wanted anything to eat, all that I had to do was to say, "Vashavwesokeeblagarodiaeeveeleekeeprevoskhodeetelstvoeetakdalshai." I believe I never felt such a sentiment of reverential admiration for the acquired talents of any man as I did for those of the Major when I heard him pronounce, fluently and gracefully, this extraordinary sentence. My mind was hopelessly lost in attempting to imagine the number of years of patient toil which must have preceded his first request for food, and I contemplated with astonishment the indefatigable perseverance which has borne him triumphant through the acquirement of such a language. If the simple request for something to eat presented such apparently insurmountable obstacles to pronunciation, what must the language be in its dealings with the more abstruse questions of theological and metaphysical science? Imagination stood aghast at the thought.

I frankly told the Major that he might print out this terrible sentence on a big placard and hang it around my neck; but as for learning to pronounce it, I could not, and did not propose to try. I found out afterwards that he had taken advantage of my inexperience and confiding disposition by giving me some of the longest and worst words in his barbarous language, and pretending that they meant something to eat. The real translation in Russian would have been bad enough, and it was wholly unnecessary to select peculiarly hard words.

The Russian language is, I believe, without exception, the most difficult of all modern languages to learn. Its difficulty does not lie, as might be supposed, in pronunciation. Its words are all spelled phonetically, and have only a few sounds which are foreign to English; but its grammar is exceptionally involved and intricate. It has seven cases and three genders; and as the latter are dependent upon no definite principle whatever, but are purely arbitrary, it is almost impossible for a foreigner to learn them so as to give nouns and adjectives their proper terminations. Its vocabulary is very copious; and its idioms have a peculiarly racy individuality which can hardly be appreciated without a thorough acquaintance with the colloquial talk of the Russian peasants.

The Russian, like all the Indo-European languages, is closely related to the ancient Sanscrit, and seems to have preserved unchanged, in a greater degree than any of the others, the old Vedic words. The first ten numerals, as spoken by a Hindoo a thousand years before the Christian era, would, with one or two exceptions, be understood by a modern Russian peasant.

During our stay in Petropavlovsk we succeeded in learning the Russian for "Yes," "No," and "How do you do?" and we congratulated ourselves not a little upon even this slight progress in a language of such peculiar difficulty.

Our reception at Petropavlovsk by both Russians and Americans was most cordial and enthusiastic, and the first three or four days after our arrival were spent in one continuous round of visits and dinners. On Thursday we made an excursion on horseback to a little village called Avacha, ten or fifteen versts distant across the bay, and came back charmed with the scenery, climate, and vegetation of this beautiful peninsula. The road wound around the slopes of grassy, wooded hills, above the clear blue water of the bay, commanding a view of the bold purple promontories which formed the gateway to the sea, and revealing now and then, between the clumps of silver birch, glimpses of long ranges of picturesque snow-covered mountains, stretching away along the western coast to the white solitary peak of Villuchinski, thirty or forty miles distant. The vegetation everywhere was almost tropical in its rank luxuriance. We could pick handfuls of flowers almost without bending from our saddles, and the long wild grass through which we rode would in many places sweep our waists. Delighted to find the climate of Italy where we had anticipated the biting air of Labrador, and inspirited by the beautiful scenery, we woke the echoes of the hills with American songs, shouted, halloed, and ran races on our little Cossack ponies until the setting sun warned us that it was time to return.

Upon the information which he obtained in Petropavlovsk, Major Abaza formed a plan of operations for the ensuing winter, which was briefly as follows: Mahood and Bush were to go on in the Olga to Nikolaievsk at the mouth of the Amur River, on the Chinese frontier, and, making that settlement their base of supplies, were to explore the rough mountainous region lying west of the Okhotsk Sea and south of the Russian seaport of Okhotsk. The Major and I, in the meantime, were to travel northward with a party of natives through the peninsula of Kamchatka, and strike the proposed route of the line about midway between Okhotsk and Bering Strait. Dividing again here, one of us would go westward to meet Mahood and Bush at Okhotsk, and one northward to a Russian trading station called Anadyrsk (ah-nah'-dyrsk), about four hundred miles west of the Strait. In this way we should cover the whole ground to be traversed by our line, with the exception of the barren desolate region between Anadyrsk and Bering Strait, which our chief proposed to leave for the present unexplored. Taking into consideration our circumstances and the smallness of our force, this plan was probably the best which could be devised, but it made it necessary for the Major and me to travel throughout the whole winter without a single companion except our native teamsters. As I did not speak Russian, it would be next to impossible for me to do this without an interpreter, and the Major engaged in that capacity a young American fur-trader, named Dodd, who had been living seven years in Petropavlovsk, and who was familiar with the Russian language and the habits and customs of the natives. With this addition our whole force numbered five men, and was to be divided into three parties; one for the western coast of the Okhotsk Sea, one for the northern coast, and one for the country between the Sea and the Arctic Circle. All minor details, such as means of transportation and subsistence, were left to the discretion of the several parties. We were to live on the country, travel with the natives, and avail ourselves of any and every means of transportation and subsistence which the country afforded. It was no pleasure excursion upon which we were about to enter. The Russian authorities at Petropavlovsk gave us all the information and assistance in their power, but did not hesitate to express the opinion that five men would never succeed in exploring the eighteen hundred miles of barren, almost uninhabited country between the Amur River and Bering Strait. It was not probable, they said, that the Major could get through the peninsula of Kamchatka at all that fall as he anticipated, but that if he did, he certainly could not penetrate the great desolate steppes to the northward, which were inhabited only by wandering tribes of Chukchis (chook'-chees) and Koraks. The Major replied simply that he would show them what we could do, and went on with his preparations.

On Saturday morning, August 26th, the Olga sailed with Mahood and Bush for the Amur River, leaving the Major, Dodd, and me at Petropavlovsk, to make our way northward through Kamchatka.

As the morning was clear and sunny, I engaged a boat and a native crew, and accompanied Bush and Mahood out to sea.

As we began to feel the fresh morning land-breeze, and to draw out slowly from under the cliffs of the western coast, I drank a farewell glass of wine to the success of the "Amur River Exploring Party," shook hands with the captain and complimented his Dutch History, and bade good-bye to the mates and men. As I went over the side, the second mate seemed overcome with emotion at the thought of the perils which I was about to encounter in that heathen country, and cried out in funny, broken English, "Oh, Mr. Kinney! [he could not say Kennan] who's a g'un to cook for ye, and ye can't get no potatusses?" as if the absence of a cook and the lack of potatoes were the summing up of all earthly privations. I assured him cheerfully that we could cook for ourselves and eat roots; but he shook his head, mournfully, as if he saw in prophetic vision the state of misery to which Siberian roots and our own cooking must inevitably reduce us. Bush told me afterward that on the voyage to the Amur he frequently observed the second mate in deep and melancholy reverie, and upon approaching him and asking him what he was thinking about, he answered, with a mournful shake of the head and an indescribable emphasis: "Poor Mr. Kinney!Poor Mr. Kinney!" Notwithstanding the scepticism with which I treated his sea-serpent, he gave me a place in his rough affections, second only to "Tommy," his favourite cat, and the pigs.

As the Olga sheeted home her topgallant sails, changed her course more to the eastward, and swept slowly out between the heads, I caught a last glimpse of Bush, standing on the quarter-deck by the wheel, and telegraphing some unintelligible words in the Morse alphabet with his arm. I waved my hat in response, and turning shoreward, with a lump in my throat, ordered the men to give way. The Olga was gone, and the last tie which connected us with the civilised world seemed severed.