The valley of this river is unquestionably the most fertile part of the whole Kamchatkan peninsula. Nearly all of the villages that we passed were surrounded by fields of rye and neatly fenced gardens; the banks everywhere were either covered with timber or waving with wild grass five feet in height; and the luxuriant growth in many places of flowers and weeds testified to the richness of the soil and the warm humidity of the climate. Primroses, cowslips, marsh violets, buttercups, wild-roses, cinquefoil, iris, and azure larkspur grow everywhere throughout the valley in the greatest abundance; and a peculiar species of umbelliferae, with hollow-jointed stems, attains in many places a height of six feet, and grows so densely that its huge serrated leaves hide a man from sight at a distance of a few yards. All this is the growth of a single summer.

There are twelve native settlements between the head-waters of the river and the Kluchefskoi volcano, and nearly all are situated in picturesque locations, and surrounded by gardens and fields of rye. Nowhere does the traveller see any evidences of the barrenness, sterility, and frigid desolation which have always been associated with the name of Kamchatka.

After leaving our hospitable native friends and our imperial dignity at Milkova, on Monday morning, we floated slowly down the river for three days, catching distant glimpses of the snowy mountain ranges which bounded the valley, roaming through the woods in search of bears and wild cherries, camping at night on the river-bank among the trees, and living generally a wild, free, delightful life. We passed the native settlements of Kirganic (keer-gan'-ic), Marshura (mar'-shoo-rah), Shchapina (shchap'-in-ah), and Tolbachic, where we were received with boundless hospitality; and on Wednesday, September 13th, camped in the woods south of Kazerefski (kaz-er-ef'-ski), only a hundred and twenty versts distant from the village of Kluchei (kloo-chay'). It rained nearly all day Wednesday, and we camped at night among the dripping trees, with many apprehensions that the storm would hide the magnificent scenery of the lower Kamchatka, through which we were about to pass. It cleared away, however, before midnight; and I was awakened at an early hour in the morning by a shouted summons from Dodd to get up and look at the mountains. There was hardly a breath of air astir, and the atmosphere had that peculiar crystalline transparency which may sometimes be seen in California. A heavy hoar-frost lay white on the boats and grass, and a few withered leaves dropped wavering through the still cool air from the yellow birch trees which overhung our tent. There was not a sound to break harshly upon the silence of dawn; and only the tracks of wild reindeer and prowling wolves, on the smooth sandy beach showed that there was life in the quiet lonely wilderness around us. The sun had not yet risen, but the eastern heavens were aglare with yellow light, even up to the morning-star, which, although "paling its ineffectual fires," still maintained its position as a glittering outpost between the contending powers of night and day. Far away to the north-eastward, over the yellow forest, in soft purple relief against the red sunrise, stood the high sharp peaks of Kluchei, grouped around the central wedge-like cone of the magnificent Kluchefskoi volcano. Nearly a month before I had seen these noble mountains from the tossing deck of a little brig, seventy-five miles at sea; but I little thought then that I should see them again from a lonely camp in the woods of the Kamchatka River.

For nearly half an hour Dodd and I sat quietly on the beach, absent-mindedly throwing pebbles into the still water, watching the illumination of the distant mountains by the rising sun, and talking over the adventures which we had experienced since leaving Petropavlovsk. With what different impressions had I come to look at Siberian life since I first saw the precipitous coast of Kamchatka looming up out of the blue water of the Pacific!

Then it was an unknown, mysterious land of glaciers and snowy mountains, filled with possibilities of adventure, but lonely and forbidding in its uninhabited wildness. Now it was no longer lonely or desolate. Every mountain peak was associated with some hospitable village nestled at its feet; every little stream was connected with the great world of human interests by some pleasant recollection of camp life. The possibilities of adventure were still there, but the imaginary loneliness and desolation had vanished with one week's experience. I thought of the vague conceptions which I had formed in America of this beautiful country, and tried to compare them with the more recent impressions by which they had been crowded out, but the effort was vain. I could not surround myself again with the lost intellectual atmosphere of civilisation, nor reconcile those earlier anticipations with this strangely different experience. The absurd fancies, which had seemed so vivid and so true only three months before, had now faded away into the half-remembered imagery of a dream, and nothing was real but the tranquil river which flowed at my feet, the birch tree which dropped its yellow leaves upon my head, and the far-away purple mountains.

I was roused from my reverie by the furious beating of a tin mess-kettle, which was the summons to breakfast. In half an hour breakfast was despatched, the tent struck, camp equipage packed up, and we were again under way. We floated all day down the river toward Kluchei, getting ever-changing views of the mountains as they were thrown into new and picturesque combinations by our motion to the northward. We reached Kazerefski at dark, and, changing our crew, continued our voyage throughout the night. At daybreak on Friday we passed Kristi (kris-tee'), and at two o'clock in the afternoon arrived at Kluchei, having been just eleven days out from Petropavlovsk.

The village of Kluchei is situated in an open plain on the right bank of the Kamchatka River, at the very foot of the magnificent Kluchefskoi volcano, and has nothing to distinguish it from other Kamchadal towns, except the boldness and picturesque beauty of its situation. It lies exactly in the midst of the group of superb isolated peaks which guard the entrance to the river, and is shadowed over frequently by the dense, black smoke of two volcanoes. It was founded early in the eighteenth century by a few Russian peasants who were taken from their homes in central Russia, and sent with seeds and farming utensils to start a colony in far-away Kamchatka. After a long adventurous journey of six thousand miles across Asia by way of Tobolsk (to-bolsk'), Irkutsk (eer-kootsk'), Yakutsk (yah-kootsk'), and Kolyma (kol-e-mah'), the little band of involuntary emigrants finally reached the peninsula, and settled boldly on the Kamchatka River, under the shadow of the great volcano. Here they and their descendants have lived for more than a hundred years, until they have almost forgotten how they came there and by whom they were sent. Notwithstanding the activity and frequent eruption of the two volcanoes behind the village, its location never has been changed, and its inhabitants have come to regard with indifference the occasional mutterings of warning which come from the depths of the burning craters, and the showers of ashes which are frequently sifted over their houses and fields. Never having heard of Herculaneum or Pompeii, they do not associate any possible danger with the fleecy cloud of smoke which floats in pleasant weather from the broken summit of Kluchefskoi, or the low thunderings by which its smaller, but equally dangerous, neighbour asserts its wakefulness during the long winter nights. Another century may perhaps elapse without bringing any serious disaster upon the little village; but after hearing the Kluchefskoi volcano rumble at a distance of sixty miles, and seeing the dense volumes of black vapour which it occasionally emitted, I felt entirely satisfied to give its volcanic majesty a wide berth, and wondered at the boldness of the Kamchadals in selecting such a site for their settlement.

The Kluchefskoi is one of the highest as well as one of the most uninterruptedly active volcanoes in all the great volcanic chain of the North Pacific. Since the seventeenth century very few years have elapsed without an eruption of greater or less violence, and even now, at irregular intervals of a few months, it bursts into flame and scatters ashes over the whole width of the peninsula and on both seas. The snow in winter is frequently so covered with ashes for twenty-five miles around Kluchei that travel upon sledges becomes almost impossible. Many years ago, according to the accounts of the natives, there was an eruption of terrible magnificence. It began in the middle of a clear, dark winter's night, with loud thunderings and tremblings of the earth, which startled the inhabitants of Kluchei from their sleep and brought them in affright to their doors. Far up in the dark winter's sky, 16,000 feet above their heads, blazed a column of lurid flame from the crater, crowned by a great volume of fire-lighted vapour. Amid loud rumblings, and dull reverberations from the interior, the molten lava began to flow in broad fiery rivers down the snow-covered mountain side, until for half the distance to its base it was one glowing mass of fire which lighted, up the villages of Kristi, Kazerefski, and Kluchei like the sun, and illuminated the whole country within a radius of twenty-five miles. This eruption is said to have scattered ashes over the peninsula for three hundred versts to a depth of an inch and a half.

The lava has never yet descended much, if any, below the snow line; but I see no reason why it may not at some future time overwhelm the settlement of Kluchei and fill the channel of the Kamchatka River with a fiery flood.

The volcano, so far as I know, has never been ascended, and its reported height, 16,500 feet, is probably the approximative estimate of some Russian officer. It is certainly, however, the highest peak of the Kamchatkan peninsula, and is more likely to exceed 16,000 feet than fall below it. We felt a strong temptation to try to scale its smooth snowy sides and peer over into its smoking crater; but it would have been folly to make the attempt without two or three weeks' training, and we had not the time to spare. The mountain is nearly a perfect cone, and from the village of Kluchei it is so deceitfully foreshortened that the last 3,000 feet appear to be absolutely perpendicular. There is another volcano whose name, if it have any, I could not ascertain, standing a short distance south-east of the Kluchefskoi, and connected with it by an irregular broken ridge. It does not approach the latter in height, but it seems to draw its fiery supplies from the same source, and is constantly puffing out black vapour, which an east wind drives in great clouds across the white sides of Kluchefskoi until it is sometimes almost hidden from sight.

We were entertained at Kluchei in the large comfortable house of the starosta, or local magistrate of the village. The walls of our room were gayly hung with figured calico, the ceiling was covered with white cotton drill, and the rude pine furniture was scoured with soap and sand to the last attainable degree of cleanliness. A coarsely executed picture, which I took to be Moses, hung in a gilt frame in the corner; but the sensible prophet had apparently shut his eyes to avoid the smoke of the innumerable candles which had been burned in his honour, and the expression of his face was somewhat marred in consequence. Table-cloths of American manufacture were spread on the tables, pots of flowers stood in the curtained windows, a little mirror hung against the wall opposite the door, and all the little fixtures and rude ornaments of the room were disposed with a taste and a view to general effect which the masculine mind may admire but never can imitate. American art, too, had lent a grace to this cottage in the wilderness, for the back of one of the doors was embellished with pictorial sketches of Virginian life and scenery from the skilful pencil of Porte Crayon. I thought of the well-known lines of Pope:

  "The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare, 
  But wonder how the d - - they came there."

In such comfortable, not to say luxurious, quarters as these, we succeeded, of course, in passing away pleasantly the remainder of the day.

At Kluchei we were called upon to decide what route we would adopt in our journey to the northward. The shortest, and in many respects the best, was that usually taken by the Russian traders - crossing the central range of mountains to Tigil (tee-gill'), by the pass of the Yolofka (yo-loff'-ka), and then following up the west coast of the peninsula to the head of the Okhotsk Sea. The only objections to this were the lateness of the season and the probability of finding deep snow in the mountain passes. Our only alternative was to continue our journey from Kluchei up the eastern coast to a settlement called Dranka (dran'-kah), where the mountains sank into insignificant hills, and cross there to the Kamchadal village of Lesnoi (less-noi') on the Okhotsk Sea. This route was considerably longer than the one by the Yolofka pass, but its practicability was much more certain.

After a great many prolonged consultations with sundry natives, who were supposed to know something about the country, but who carefully avoided responsibility by telling as little as possible, the Major concluded to try the Yolofka pass, and ordered canoes to be ready on Saturday morning to carry us up the Yolofka River.

At the worst, we could only fail to get over the mountains, and there would be time enough then to return to Kluchei, and try the other route before the opening of winter.

As soon as we had decided the momentous question of our route, we gave ourselves up to the unrestrained enjoyment of the few pleasures which the small and sedate village of Kluchei afforded. There was no afternoon promenade where we could, as the Russians say, "show ourselves and see the people"; nor would an exhibition of our tattered and weather-stained garments on a public promenade have been quite the proper thing, had it been possible. We must try something else. The only places of amusement of which we could hear were the village bath-house and the church; and the Major and I started out, late in the afternoon, with the intention of "doing" these points of interest in the most approved style of modern tourists. For obvious reasons we took the bath-house first. Taking a steam-bath was a very mild sort of dissipation; and if it were true that "cleanliness was next to godliness," the bath-house certainly should precede the church. I had often heard Dodd speak of the "black baths" of the Kamchadals; and without knowing definitely what he meant, I had a sort of vague impression that these "black baths" were taken in some inky fluid of Kamchatkan manufacture, which possessed peculiar detersive properties. I could think of no other reason than this for calling a bath "black." Upon entering the "black bath," however, at Kluchei, I saw my mistake, and acknowledged at once the appropriateness of the adjective. Leaving our clothes in a little rude entry, which answered the purposes without affording any of the conveniences of a dressing-room, we stooped to a low fur-clad door and entered the bath-room proper, which was certainly dark enough and black enough to justify the gloomiest, murkiest adjective in the language. A tallow candle, which was burning feebly on the floor, gave just light enough to distinguish the outlines of a low, bare apartment, about ten feet square, built solidly of unhewn logs, without a single opening for the admission of air or light. Every square inch of the walls and ceiling was perfectly black with a sooty deposit from the clouds of smoke with which the room had been filled in the process of heating. A large pile of stones, with a hollow place underneath for a fire, stood in one end of the room, and a series of broad steps, which did not seem to lead anywhere, occupied the other. As soon as the fire had gone out, the chimney-hole had been closed and hermetically sealed, and the pile of hot stones was now radiating a fierce dry heat, which made res_piration a painful duty, and per_spiration an unpleasant necessity. The presiding spirit of this dark, infernal place of torture soon made his appearance in the shape of a long-haired, naked Kamchadal, and proceeded to throw water upon the pile of red-hot stones until they hissed like a locomotive, and the candle burned blue in the centre of a steamy halo. I thought it was hot before, but it was a Siberian winter compared with the temperature which this manoeuvre produced. My very bones seemed melting with fervent heat. After getting the air of the room as nearly as possible up to 212 deg., the native seized me by the arm, spread me out on the lowest of the flight of steps, poured boiling suds over my face and feet with reckless impartiality, and proceeded to knead me up, as if he fully intended to separate me into my original elements. I will not attempt to describe the number, the variety, and the diabolical ingenuity of the tortures to which I was subjected during the next twenty minutes. I was scrubbed, rolled, pounded, drenched with cold water and scalded with hot, beaten with bundles of birch twigs, rubbed down with wads of hemp which scraped like brickbats, and finally left to recover my breath upon the highest and hottest step of the whole stairway. A douse of cold water finally put an end to the ordeal and to my misery; and, groping my way out into the entry, I proceeded, with chattering teeth, to dress. In a moment I was joined by the Major, and we resumed our walk, feeling like disembodied spirits.

Owing to the lateness of the hour, we were compelled to postpone indefinitely our visit to the church; but we had been sufficiently amused for one day, and returned to the house satisfied, if not delighted, with our experience of Kamchatkan black baths.

The evening was spent in questioning the inhabitants of the village about the northern part of the peninsula, and the facilities for travel among the wandering Koraks; and before nine o'clock we went to bed, in order that we might make an early start on the following morning.