Our time in Petropavlovsk, after the departure of the Olga, was almost wholly occupied in making preparations for our northern journey through the Kamchatkan peninsula. On Tuesday, however, Dodd told me that there was to be a wedding at the church, and invited me to go over and witness the ceremony. It took place in the body of the church, immediately after some sort of morning service, which had nearly closed when we entered. I had no difficulty in singling out the happy individuals whose fortunes were to be united in the holy bonds of matrimony. They betrayed their own secret by their assumed indifference and unconsciousness.

The unlucky (lucky?) man was a young, round-headed Cossack about twenty years of age, dressed in a dark frock-coat trimmed with scarlet and gathered like a lady's dress above the waist, which, with a reckless disregard for his anatomy, was assumed to be six inches below his armpits. In honour of the extraordinary occasion he had donned a great white standing collar which projected above his ears, as the mate of the Olga would say, "like fore to'gallant studd'n' s'ls." Owing to a deplorable lack of understanding between his cotton trousers and his shoes they failed to meet by about six inches, and no provision had been made for the deficiency. The bride was comparatively an old woman - at least twenty years the young man's senior, and a widow. I thought with a sigh of the elder Mr. Weller's parting injunction to his son, "Bevare o' the vidders," and wondered what the old gentleman would say could he see this unconscious "wictim" walking up to the altar "and thinkin' in his 'art that it was all wery capital." The bride wore a dress of that peculiar sort of calico known as "furniture prints," without trimming or ornaments of any kind. Whether it was cut "bias" or with "gores," I'm sorry to say I do not know, dress-making being as much of an occult science to me as divination. Her hair was tightly bound up in a scarlet silk handkerchief, fastened in front with a little gilt button. As soon as the church service was concluded the altar was removed to the middle of the room, and the priest, donning a black silk gown which contrasted strangely with his heavy cowhide boots, summoned the couple before him.

After giving to each three lighted candles tied together with blue ribbon, he began to read in a loud sonorous voice what I supposed to be the marriage service, paying no attention whatever to stops, but catching his breath audibly in the midst of a sentence and hurrying on again with tenfold rapidity. The candidates for matrimony were silent, but the deacon, who was looking abstractedly out of a window on the opposite side of the church, interrupted him occasionally with doleful chanted responses.

At the conclusion of the reading they all crossed themselves devoutly half a dozen times in succession, and after asking them the decisive question the priest gave them each a silver ring. Then came more reading, at the end of which he administered to them a teaspoonful of wine out of a cup. Reading and chanting were again resumed and continued for a long time, the bridegroom and bride crossing and prostrating themselves continually, and the deacon closing up his responses by repeating with the most astounding rapidity, fifteen times in five seconds, the words "Gaspodi pomilui" (goss'-po-dee-po-mee'-loo-ee), "God have mercy upon us." He then brought in two large gilt crowns ornamented with medallions, and, blowing off the dust which had accumulated upon them since the last wedding, he placed them upon the heads of the bridegroom and bride.

The young Cossack's crown was altogether too large, and slipped down over his head like a candle-extinguisher until it rested upon his ears, eclipsing his eyes entirely. The bride's hair - or rather the peculiar manner in which it was "done up" - precluded the possibility of making a crown stay on her head, and an individual from among the spectators was detailed to hold it there. The priest then made the couple join hands, seized the groom's hand himself, and they all began a hurried march around the altar - the priest first, dragging along the Cossack, who, blinded by the crown, was continually stepping on his leader's heels; the bride following the groom, and trying to keep the crown from pulling her hair down; and lastly, the supernumerary stepping on the bride's dress and holding the gilt emblem of royalty in its place. The whole performance was so indescribably ludicrous that I could not possibly keep my countenance in that sober frame which befitted the solemnity of the occasion, and nearly scandalised the whole assembly by laughing out loud. Three times they marched in this way around the altar, and the ceremony was then ended. The bride and groom kissed the crowns reverently as they took them off, walked around the church, crossing themselves and bowing in succession before each of the pictures of saints which hung against the wall, and at last turned to receive the congratulations of their friends. It was expected of course that the "distinguished Americans," of whose intelligence, politeness, and suavity so much had been heard would congratulate the bride upon this auspicious occasion; but at least one distinguished but unfortunate American did not know how to do it. My acquirements in Russian were limited to "Yes," "No," and "How do you do?" and none of these expressions seemed fully to meet the emergency. Desirous, however, of sustaining the national reputation for politeness, as well as of showing my good-will to the bride, I selected the last of the phrases as probably the most appropriate, and walking solemnly, and I fear awkwardly, up I asked the bride with a very low bow, and in very bad Russian - how she did; she graciously replied, "Cherasvwechiano khorasho pakornashae vass blagadoroo," and the distinguished American retired with a proud consciousness of having done his duty. I was not very much enlightened as to the state of the bride's health; but, judging from the facility with which she rattled off this tremendous sentence, we concluded that she must be well. Nothing but a robust constitution and the most excellent health would have enabled her to do it. Convulsed with laughter, Dodd and I made our escape from the church and returned to our quarters. I have since been informed by the Major that the marriage ceremony of the Greek Church, when properly performed, has a peculiar impressiveness and solemnity; but I shall never be able to see it now without having my solemnity overcome by the recollection of that poor Cossack, stumbling around the altar after the priest with his head extinguished in a crown!

From the moment when the Major decided upon the overland journey through Kamchatka, he devoted all his time and energies to the work of preparation. Boxes covered with sealskin, and intended to be hung from pack-saddles, were prepared for the transportation of our stores; tents, bearskins, and camp equipage were bought and packed away in ingeniously contrived bundles; and everything that native experience could suggest for lessening the hardships of outdoor life was provided in quantities sufficient for two months' journey. Horses were then ordered from all the adjacent villages, and a special courier was sent throughout the peninsula by the route that we intended to follow, with orders to apprise the natives everywhere of our coming, and to direct them to remain at home with all their horses until after our party should pass.

Thus prepared, we set out on the 4th of September for the Far North.

The peninsula of Kamchatka, through which we were about to travel, is a long irregular tongue of land lying east of the Okhotsk Sea, between the fifty-first and sixty-second degrees of north latitude, and measuring in extreme length about seven hundred miles. It is almost entirely of volcanic formation, and the great range of rugged mountains by which it is longitudinally divided comprises even now five or six volcanoes in a state of almost uninterrupted activity. This immense chain of mountains, which has never even been named, stretches from the fifty-first to the sixtieth degree of latitude in one almost continuous ridge, and at last breaks off abruptly into the Okhotsk Sea, leaving to the northward a high level steppe called the "dole" or desert, which is the wandering ground of the Reindeer Koraks. The central and southern parts of the peninsula are broken up by the spurs and foot-hills of the great mountain range into deep sequestered valleys of the wildest and most picturesque character, and afford scenery which, for majestic and varied beauty, is not surpassed in all northern Asia. The climate everywhere, except in the extreme north, is comparatively mild and equable, and the vegetation has an almost tropical freshness and luxuriance totally at variance with all one's ideas of Kamchatka. The population of the peninsula I estimate from careful observation at about 5000, and it is made up of three distinct classes - the Russians, the Kamchadals or settled natives, and the Wandering Koraks. The Kamchadals, who compose the most numerous class, are settled in little log villages throughout the peninsula, near the mouths of small rivers which rise in the central range of mountains and fall into the Okhotsk Sea or the Pacific. Their principal occupations are fishing, fur-trapping, and the cultivation of rye, turnips, cabbages, and potatoes, which grow thriftily as far north as lat. 58 deg. Their largest settlements are in the fertile valley of the Kamchatka River, between Petropavlovsk and Kluchei (kloo-chay'). The Russians, who are comparatively few in number, are scattered here and there among the Kamchadal villages, and are generally engaged in trading for furs with the Kamchadals and the nomadic tribes to the northward. The Wandering Koraks, who are the wildest, most powerful, and most independent natives in the peninsula, seldom come south of the 58th parallel of latitude, except for the purpose of trade. Their chosen haunts are the great desolate steppes lying east of Penzhinsk (pen'-zhinsk) Gulf, where they wander constantly from place to place in solitary bands, living in large fur tents and depending for subsistence upon their vast herds of tamed and domesticated reindeer. The government under which all the inhabitants of Kamchatka nominally live is administered by a Russian officer called an "ispravnik" (is-prav'-nik) or local governor [Footnote: Strictly, a chief of district police.] who is supposed to settle all questions of law which may arise between individuals or tribes, and to collect the annual "yassak" or tax of furs, which is levied upon every male inhabitant in his province. He resides in Petropavlovsk, and owing to the extent of country over which he has jurisdiction, and the imperfect facilities which it affords for getting about, he is seldom seen outside of the village where he has his headquarters. The only means of transportation between the widely separated settlements of the Kamchadals are packhorses, canoes, and dog-sledges, and there is not such a thing as a road in the whole peninsula. I may have occasion hereafter to speak of "roads," but I mean by the word nothing more than the geometrician means by a "line" - simple longitudinal extension without any of the sensible qualities which are popularly associated with it.

Through this wild, sparsely populated region, we purposed to travel by hiring the natives along our route to carry us with their horses from one settlement to another until we should reach the territory of the Wandering Koraks. North of that point we could not depend upon any regular means of transportation, but would be obliged to trust to luck and the tender mercies of the arctic nomads.